Chapter 3 (Part 2)

It is almost impossible to describe the full impact of the shock that the invasion had on the rest of Islandia. Despite its secretive tendencies, the Arvintan royal family had aroused no suspicion in recent years, and Queen Olivia had continued to engage in standard diplomatic engagements and visits right to the point of the invasion. In fact, mere weeks before the onslaught, she and her family had attended a large royal convention at Torquen, the capital of Matalie, in which all of the other royal and grand duchal families had been present. There had been no indication of conflict whatsoever, and there were even a few hours after the invasion in which the main government officials genuinely did not believe that the ships, with their bizarre design and alien size, were Arvintan. It was thought instead that the army must come from some unknown land beyond the sea; an evil nation that had already captured Arvinta and now threatened the whole of Islandia. This illusion was obviously dispelled quickly by those who had managed to observe the army itself: the orange Arvintan Sun was embroidered, however poorly, on each soldier’s hastily-constructed uniform. But still, the attack remained completely unexplained, and with no messenger even able to approach the hysterical, possessed Arvintan soldiers, there did not even seem to be a realistic method of communicating with the Arvintan government. This would probably have been pointless in any case, because Queen Olivia simply did not want anything. She wanted to conquer.

As elusive as Queen Olivia’s motives seemed at the time, it was clear that she had made a logical decision to attack Matalie first. Matalie’s Grand Duchess was the elderly Celeste, who had been ruling the Grand Duchy with no major issues for almost twenty years. As if in imitation of its ruler’s declining capabilities, the Matalian government was not at its finest standard. As in Rowenia, the royal court was based in the royal palace in the capital city, but unlike the bustling, sociable environment of Kemerin Palace, Torquen Palace had more the atmosphere of some sort of residential facility for the elderly. Grand Duchess Celeste surrounded herself only with her most trusted associates, and led a life of pure relaxation and leisure. Casually ignoring the occasional factional argument or sword fight in the halls of her palace, she had not had to bother herself with royal administration or official business for many years; at this point her son and heir, Jonas, was undertaking most duties on her behalf. For Queen Olivia, therefore, Matalie was the weakest fragment of a much stronger whole; a whole whose most valuable point was the goal on which she ultimately set her sights. 

King John IV was on the throne of Rowenia. Rowenia’s monarchy had just emerged from a comparatively turbulent period. John’s father was King Cador, whose two older sisters, Queen Ada and Queen Judith II, had ruled before him, the latter for just seven months. Neither had had children, and the unwilling Cador had been pushed onto the throne at the age of sixty. At the time of the Arvintan War his son, thirty-year-old John, had been ruling for less than a year and was yet to marry. Even though John had ten younger siblings to make the line of succession as unambiguous as possible, Rowenia has always had a peculiar phobia of childless monarchs, and by Rowenian standards the monarchy was in a minor crisis. Given that this was the kind of issue that fifteenth-century Rowenia considered ‘troubling’, one can imagine the state of panic the kingdom was thrown into when news of the Havilund invasion reached Kemerin Palace.

The situation was much better over in Keperlia. Whilst relatively new to the kingship, forty-seven-year-old King Isaac III was in a comfortable position with a wife, son and daughter. Incidentally, it would be Isaac’s son Leopold who would later threaten the stability of the monarchy by producing a total of sixteen highly dysfunctional children, but at present all seemed well. In fact, Keperlia seemed so insignificant a target to Queen Olivia that it was scarcely touched by the Arvintan War. Calbania, with its equally comfortably positioned Grand Duke Christophe, was not quite as lucky, but it was plain from the beginning that Arvinta had a specific target.

A second army was sited from the Heraney peninsula in Rowenia barely a week after the invasion of Havilund and the subsequent spread of Arvintan armies into Calbania and northern Matalie. Despite the previous invasion, freakishly enormous ships were not yet a common sight in the Inner Sea, and it caused some commotion before it was even ascertained that the fleet of ships belonged to a different, larger, retinue than the first. To make things worse, the fleet of ships that had attacked central Islandia were now sailing up around the northern coast of Calbania, also heading for Heraney. It seemed as though the two armies would unite and become a single, unbeatable force as they prepared sail up the Angelis River towards Kemerin. Rowenia was noted for its prowess at sea, though with almost no standing navy and very few warships at hand, they were forced to contemplate the prospect of tackling an immense army on land. They were by no means remotely equipped to undertake such a battle, and Kemerin’s fortifications had not been active, or even tested, for several centuries. Peak Castle, the island military defence at the mouth of the Angelis from the days of Jowan I, was practically a ruin. King John was forced to come up with a solution to a seemingly invincible problem, and he and all his advisors were aware that even the most delusional of Arvintan military campaigns could prove disastrous if Kemerin were taken.

*

While all this was happening, Crown Princess Eugenia and her siblings sat in their confined quarters in Arivintia Palace, with little information on or knowledge of what was happening. Ten years earlier, twenty-seven-year-old Eugenia had been forced to marry Andrei Talrin, the eldest son of the recently-deposed Talrin family of Rocana. The couple detested one another: Andrei was terrified and submissive before the Queen, and spent virtually all of his own time drinking and gambling. The marriage had produced no children, and as Eugenia became older the prospect became more and more unlikely, much to her mother’s chagrin. Her two eldest siblings, Ariana and Olivia, had also been recently married to members of the Talrin family, whilst Olivia’s twin brother Eric had been joined to the only daughter of the elderly Lord Havelin. Queen Olivia still possessed no grandchildren, and, giving up on her elder children, had begun organising more matches between members of the aristocracy and her younger children. Hoping to spur the process on, she had privately promised the first of her children to become a parent the title of Grand Duke or Duchess of Sarin. No one thought to question how she would obtain this title from its current holder, the Rowenian Princess Isabella.

Meanwhile, her children lived a pitiful existence. They were regularly and publicly paraded in front of the palace, where they were expected to smile constantly and appear effortlessly charming. Behind the scenes, however, Olivia’s obsession with her military project had diverted all the money away from maintaining the vast Arivintia Palace, and the royal family were currently living in a set of dilapidated apartments with virtually no servants. Forbidden by their mother from knowing even the smallest details regarding the running of the country, they spent their days sewing, studying, entertaining their mother’s continued flow of noble guests, and reading the few books that had made their way past the Queen’s extensive censorship controls. Over the last few years they had become virtual prisoners in the palace.  

One day, however, was different. Much like my own family on the day we met King Joseph of Arvinta at Heraney, Eugenia would have heard commotion in the corridor outside her rooms one hot day in July; perhaps the small group of servants that remained to attend to the ageing royal children had gasped and exclaimed at the unlikely sight, or the rickety floorboards may have creaked with more urgency than usual. The door would have opened, and Queen Olivia would have swept into the room with no warning, as was her style. According to Heyred’s illustrated Tales of Islandia, Eugenia’s mother was wearing her royal robes and a number of the crown jewels, though there had been no official royal function in Arvinta for over a decade. Unusually for the Arvintan royal court, which was dotted with an intricate network of spies and informers, no one had had any idea that the Queen had even left her private apartments, located down half a mile of corridors. Apparently she could move with stealth.

Eugenia would have stood up in shock – she probably had not seen her mother in person for several months, at least. According to contemporary records, Queen Olivia’s physical appearance changed rapidly in the few months that led up to the invasion of Havilund: her face became lined, she lost a large amount of weight due to a compulsive exercise routine, and her hair went from its original dark-brown to grey over just a couple of days. Perhaps her sumptuous robes dwarfed her where they should have made her more formidable.

Olivia marched directly to the centre of the room, grandly ignoring the squalor of her surroundings, and made a single, blunt announcement to Eugenia:

“My daughter, you will shortly be Crown Princess of Rowenia.”

*

The theory that the two Arvintan fleets would unite to attack Kemerin was confirmed on the evening of the fifth day. The expected second fleet was spotted to the north, having rounded the eastern tip of Calbania and moved rapidly down the Lemin Strait. Despite their private feelings that there was little hope, the Rowenians scrambled to prepare some kind of defensive force: men were conscripted from all over the kingdom and brought to Kemerin Palace, with a smaller retinue posted at Heraney. Armour and weapons were provided from the royal armoury, but they were in such short supply that King John’s commanders actually had to make use of the antique chainmail from centuries before. Rowenia’s warships – in short supply and in many cases faulty – were given a hurried and inadequate test before being manned by inexperienced sailors, some less than fourteen years old. Upon their arrival in Kemerin, each soldier was given a weapon, often grossly inappropriate for modern warfare, which they had to teach themselves to use. Rowenia’s inferior army camped on the plains outside Kemerin, overlooking the ocean. With each passing hour, the united Arvintan fleet drew nearer.

But early on the sixth day, Rowenia was offered a ray of hope. After two weeks of unnaturally hot weather, an immense thunderstorm engulfed Kemerin. For three days, torrential rain and raging winds swept Rowenia and Calbania, and a steady stream of lightning bolts flashed across the sky (which, according to private sources, was almost completely black during both day and night). The volume of rain flooded the fields and destroyed hundreds of coastal homes. In ordinary times this would have been a catastrophe, but the weather forced the Arvintan fleet to retreat towards western Calbania, where they struggled to dock their huge ships in a series of small fishing villages south of Puremy. The soldiers swiftly ejected the terrified inhabitants of the villages into the tempest and took shelter in the little stone cottages on the hills, where they spent the next couple of days waiting for the weather to change and gorging themselves on whatever food they could find. In certain rural areas of Calbania, particularly over the border in Luringia, a tale went round that the Arvintan soldiers were possessed by demons, and even after they had gone many of the cottages they requisitioned were abandoned, with the personal belongings of the cottages’ original inhabitants still in place. Many of them are still there, abundantly overgrown.               

King John of Rowenia did not have many choices as he gazed out at the raging storm from the windows of Heraney Palace’s Purple Tower. The royal family had been spending their summer at Heraney following the diplomatic visit to Matalie, and when news came of the invasion of Havilund, John decided it would be imprudent to return to Kemerin, despite its greater political resources and the presence of the ramshackle army. Superstitious as he allegedly was, John praised the storm as a miracle, despite the fact that he had absolutely no plan. For a few hours, he stood on his balcony, having locked the crowds of hysterical courtiers out of his private rooms, and thought about what he could do.

Next comes one of those moments in history where fact slips into fiction, and the lives of my ancestors come to resemble those of fairytale kings rather than real people, like Lancaster and York picking their red and white roses from the bush in Shakespeare. As part of his search for answers, John resorted to sorting through the old papers of his recently-deceased father, who was rumoured to have been a meticulous hoarder, of information as well as material possessions. King Cador had been paranoid, anxious and possessed of a mighty imagination, and John suspected that somewhere in one of the trunks that stood in his father’s old bedchamber there could be some kind of protocol or plan for this kind of emergency. Having come up with this revelation, therefore, John unlocked his apartment doors, pushed through the crowd of baffled courtiers, and marched to his father’s former quarters in the palace.

The room was apparently a promising site from which to extract kingdom-saving military secrets. The playwright Jesper theorises that King Cador’s old bedchamber was dark, musty and possessed of a great aura of mystery. The dark trunks stood piled on top of one another underneath the sodden windows as rain pounded against the glass, and John had to enlist the servants to help him break open the enormous rusty locks. With a theatrical creak, the smallest of the trunks then obediently opened and divulged its secrets.

But to his surprise, in the heavy, dark wooden trunks that John remembered strongly from his childhood, he found not the wise musings of a king, but rather piles and piles of children’s toys. Dolls, wooden blocks, figurines and hobby-horses were all found in the boxes, some of them broken beyond repair, and all of which had once had a place in the royal children’s nursery. Though initially puzzled, it was here that John remembered how his father had really spent so many years of his time on the Rowenian throne: within the walls of the highly-guarded royal nursery, playing with his children. John recalled how his father’s nerves had been frayed from being forced onto the throne in the wake of his two sisters, and how in his weaker moments he would have done anything to avoid the grave responsibility of kingship; something that had until recently never plagued John’s fearless life of revelling, socialising, and exploration. Cador had opted instead to spend his time with his children, leaving statecraft to the minds of his advisors. John had had to admit to himself then that his father was not the political genius in whom he had always wanted to believe.

Jesper would have us understand that at this point John broke down and wept, and that in his anguish he rifled violently through the smallest of the trunks, searching desperately for even a scrap of information or advice that his father may have left behind. Instead, when he finally gave up and got back to his feet, he found clutched in his hand a tiny wooden soldier, no bigger than his thumb, painted in Rowenian colours with two cracked strips of red and blue paint.

It was then that he remembered Jacob Tabloh.

Published by CuriousWriter

Read and you will find out.

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