New Hero: Gerrit, Throne GuardianMarch 17, 2020
The Spire sweltered, caught in the grip of an early heatwave as the air swam and the sun burned bright overhead. Up in their roosts, the cloudsnakes snarled and snapped at one another, and the valkyrie barracks lay empty—the elite soldiers fleeing the stifling heat for the open skies over Argenport.
In the Crownwatch garrison, Gerrit stared into the mirror, trying to ignore the threads of white creeping into his grey beard as he donned the heavy armor of a warden. The Throne was hearing petitions today, which meant that he was to attend his post in full, formal uniform; heavy plate with bulky pauldrons and a trailing cape.
Sol knows I hate this stuff, he thought, wincing. He had been nursing a headache all week, and neither the weather nor his current mood were helping. Too heavy for the heat, too fancy to fight in. And it takes me too damn long to put on these days.
Gerrit had joined the Crownwatch the moment he was old enough to begin training, and had served the Throne ever since. He was more than twice the age of his fellow soldiers, and was starting to feel that difference.
Real armor should have nicks and dents, he thought, tightening a pauldron’s strap. He ran a hand over a still-knotted scar from a Clan berserker’s axe. Shows that you can stand your ground. That you don’t run.
But as he looked in the mirror, Gerrit felt pride stir in his chest. First Warden of the Throne. The title had been his for many, many years. I’ve stood by the Throne through it all.
“Has anything happened to the Throne? Has anything changed?” The panicked questions rang in his head as he adjusted the belts so that the broadsword on his back and longsword on his hip hung correctly. The mage had shaken him. Something in the tone of her voice…
Gerrit had defended the Spire and the gates of Argenport from rebels, berserkers, and worse. He’d heard bloodcurdling war cries, and listened to silver-tongued rogues try to bluff their way inside. But he had never seen someone so… so worried about the Throne. The woman had been a mess; worn down by the road, and obviously exhausted. But she had stood her ground and begged to speak with Kaleb.
Why him? He had been a fiery troublemaker in his youth—truth be told, he still had the same temper, but he had learned how to hold it in reserve until he needed it. Something of that reminded Gerrit of Kaleb’s father. He was bold, but in control.
“Better a bold bastard than a wild queen,” Gerrit muttered, leather-gloved hand touching another, older scar.
And now peacetime requires them to be politicians, not generals. He thought as he climbed the many stone steps to the throne room.
“Soldiers don’t get opinions,” Gerrit sighed, “only orders.” I hope the petitions are brief.
Hours of endless questions later, and Gerrit tried to discreetly mop his brow as a wild-eyed man with a shock of white hair stood before the leaders of Argenport and complained about the price of scrap metal.
“Been hagglin’ with my lucky boot and everything, but them mino-inotaurs won’t give me the coin!”
“Yes, of course.” Eilyn said, clearing her throat from her fur-covered seat. “We will look into it, uh, immediately.”
“Thankee,” the man said, bowing and scuttling backwards.
Eilyn, Vara, and Kaleb sat at the base of the stone steps that lead up to the Eternal Throne. Talir's seat was currently positioned farther to the left, next to a pair of tall shelves piled high with scrolls and tomes. Gerrit stood behind them all, on the second step up to the Throne. From there he could observe proceedings, and served as a reminder of the Spire’s authority.
From this vantage point, Gerrit watched as Kaleb leaned towards Eilyn and muttered, “Who let him in?” From Eilyn’s other side, Vara shot him a cold glare, which Kaleb parried with a grin.
Gerrit’s feet burned, and the small of his back ached after standing in full armor for so long. There was a time I could hold this for days, a quiet thought whispered as sweat beaded on his bald head. Gerrit watched as the chaplain strode to the center of the room and unfurled a roll of parchment, scanning to the bottom.
“I believe that was the last of today’s petitions,” The chaplain said. Behind her, the crowd of onlookers buzzed in the lazy heat. Petitions were open to the public—both speaking and listening—and many who had not made the list today were still among the audience.
“Not quite,” Vara said, standing.
Surprise jolted Gerrit from his tired haze and the crowd grew louder. His hand dropped to the pommel of his sword as he surveyed the mass of people. They were shocked, and those that had been denied a chance to speak were frowning, angry at being preempted.
I’ve seen how quickly a crowd can turn, Gerrit thought as Vara paced from her seat to stand beside the chaplain, the hem of her dress whispering on the stone floor as she turned to face her family.
“This is not done,” Eilyn snapped, as Kaleb raised an eyebrow and leaned forward in his seat, suddenly interested. Behind them both, paper rustled as Talir put down the three dusty tomes she had been reading to stare at Vara intently.
Family disputes, Gerrit cursed internally, his headache returning with a vengeance. Things were simpler under Caiphus.
“No,” Vara acknowledged, “but you of all people should know that sometimes decorum must be broken.” Raising her voice to speak over the crowd, she continued. “We have all heard the news from thecaravans. The tales of another world through the Shadowlands. Xulta, a place full of dragonfire and danger. If we are to protect Argenport, to protect our people, we must learn more about these worlds beyond.” Gerrit saw her gaze track past him to the Eternal Throne.
The Throne may be dangerous, Tamarys had warned.
“Enough.” Talir said, standing. The former Arch-Magister did not shout, but her voice swept through the room like rolling thunder. Vara lifted her chin defiantly as the crowd erupted into conversation.
“First Warden, please clear the room.” Eilyn commanded, rising as well.
“Alright you lot!” Gerrit barked, “you heard the Queen! Audience is over. Everyone exit in an orderly fashion.” At his gesture, the soldiers along the walls stepped forward and repeated his orders, their voices amplified by their heavy helms.
Vara did not move as the crowd filtered out. Across from her, Eilyn stood in front of her chair, her back held rigid as she watched her daughter. At her side, Talir’s robe and white hair stirred as if caught in a desert wind. The petitioners near the back of the group hurried forward to avoid the mage’s gaze.
As the last of the attendees exited, escorted by the guards, Gerrit crossed the room and heaved the heavy doors shut. They closed with a muted boom, and silence settled over the throne room.
Into that silence, Vara, said in a firm, resolved voice. “You all know what I mean. We must use the Throne.”
Before Eilyn or Talir could respond, Kaleb pushed himself to his feet and ambled past the two women to stand beside Vara. “I reckon she has the right of it,” he drawled. “World’s getting bigger every time we turn our backs. First the mess up in Kosul, now the news out of Xulta. We need to use the tools at hand.” He clenched a fist. “We need to act.”
“Azindel's entire plan, his time as an advisor, Traver, all of it, was designed to force my brother to tap into the Throne’s power,” Talir said, voice tight with restrained fury. “And we all know what followed. The pain that choice caused.”
Gerrit remembered. Confusion, terror. The Spire in chaos. He shuddered, despite the heat. Night was coming fast, and the room seemed darker. The Throne loomed over them all, heavy and absolute.
“We don’t know what happened,” Vara shot back. “Where did the Throne send Caiphus? What about Traver and his army? How does this connect to his appearance in Xulta?” She slashed a hand through the air, her voice rising. “Father and I dealt with Azindel. We cannot be bound by fear when the power to solve these mysteries, to better protect our city and understand the strange corners of our world is sitting right there.”
Eilyn’s eyes flashed and she took a half step forward, opening her mouth to reply when Talir put a hand on her arm. The mage sagged, and despite her young features, Talir’s voice bore the weight of her many, many years. “We don’t know what could happen.”
“So let me find out.” Vara said, her voice softening. Next to her, Kaleb nodded and turned to Gerrit, who still stood in front of the great main doors.
“You alright to keep watch, Gerrit? We…” his gaze swept over his family, “we have some things to chew on.”
Gerrit nodded jerkily, Tamarys’ desperate questions still ringing in his ears. “Of course, sir.”
The First Warden stood in near darkness, a single torch flickering from an iron sconce above a smaller door that lead to a side exit from the throne room.
Vara, Kaleb and the others had left an hour ago, leaving Gerrit with the Throne until the guard changed in the early hours of the next morning. His headache had lessened when the others had left, but it hadn’t abated. As he stood at the foot of the Throne, feeling the weight of his armor, his earlier thoughts began to echo in his ears.
I’ve stood by the Throne for many, many years.
…It was simpler under Caiphus.
“The memories fade, like all scars,” he said out loud. That was what he had told the mage, with her haunted eyes and shaking hands. He had meant it at the time, but…
The barbarians came over the gates twice, and now they sit on the Throne. Gerrit’s hand clenched, the faded mark of a cloud serpent’s bite twinging with a sudden ache.
But soldiers don’t get opinions, the thought continued. Only orders.
Gerrit scowled, eyes sweeping the room. It was empty, and the silence stretched on.
And what had the Iron Fist ordered? Hold the rebels until he could deal with them himself?
“We didn’t know what he was planning,” Gerrit said, voice small amidst the gathering dark. Pain roared through his head, and it took every ounce of his will not to double over.
You stood your ground like a good soldier, but when it was all over you could still smell the ashes.
Gerrit inhaled sharply, his nose filling with an old, familiar scent as he whirled around.
Behind him, the Throne was glowing with a dull, menacing heat that cast sharp shadows around the room. Gerrit’s ceremonial plate grew warm, and he felt sweat drip down into his beard once again.
What was it the mage had seen in her nightmares?
Are you afraid, old man? His thoughts whispered as the heat from the Throne intensified.
“Yes,” Gerrit whispered, his mouth dry. As he did, the light from the Throne vanished, taking the torch’s flame with it in a sudden sigh.
In the darkness, something laughed. Good.
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Gerrit, Throne Guardian
- 4 x Entrancer
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