Jacob Tabloh was an odd man. He lived on Heraney Isla, the large island off the Heraney peninsula. Acidic whispers in the royal court at Kemerin had always associated this choice of abode with the Tabloh family’s desperate pining for their island homeland of Sarin, from which they had been banished after the Amalgamation of 1305. To these people, Jacob was an eccentric who had renounced conventional Rowenian society to avenge the wrong done to his ancestors: the family’s main home, which had been in the Heraneyean town of Poldena ever since the Amalgamation, was comfortable and well-furnished, but Jacob’s Heraney Isla home was little more than a ruined hut. Others speculate that he had become a mystic and a hermit, and was in the habit of having strange and noisy visions throughout the day and night, which had prompted his near neighbours to move to the other side of the island. Jacob had not left Heraney Isla for years by 1474, though mainland locals could remember him as a strange young man who spent most of his time wandering along the beaches and taking solitary excursions to the Old Ruined Cathedral on the eastern moors overlooking Sarin.
Far from being seen as a heroic avenger of ancient wrongs, Jacob was a laughing stock amongst his own family. The Tablohs, still in limbo regarding their position within the aristocracy, were a family of celebrated political orators and Machiavellian courtiers, and such traits were considered essential for the family’s survival. Jacob failed to fit this model not merely because he was a loner who showed no interest in spies, factions or dynastic marriage, but because he had an intense and obsessive fascination with an ancient concept that had had no place in Rowenian politics for hundreds of years, and which was considered the stuff of children’s games: international warfare.
Interestingly, Jacob and King John had briefly been playmates as children, when Jacob had been sent to live at court for the purpose. The son of an overprotective father, John had only very rarely been allowed to associate with children of his own age, and was the only one of his siblings who had ever been allowed access to non-family members at all. John, a boisterous ten-year-old, had not then thought much of his new playmate: Jacob Tabloh spoke very little, even to members of the royal family, and seemed unable to comprehend the importance of his role as royal playmate (the first Tabloh ever to be assigned such a position). Much to the bafflement of John and the humiliation of Jacob’s parents, Jacob preferred to play with a collection of tiny wooden soldiers that he constantly seemed to have on his person, despite his parents’ best efforts to ensure that the toys remained in Jacob’s bedchamber (preferrably in the fireplace). Armed with these minute items, Jacob was capable of imagining a grand battlefield within almost any context: a carpet became the rough terrain of a moor or a boggy field over which his troops would struggle to march and maintain their intricate battle plans; they scaled the legs of chairs and tables as though they were mighty mountains or cliffs, always doing their best to remain unseen by some invisible enemy lurking at the top; they advanced up the aisle of the palace’s grand chapel, ducking behind the pews and aiming their weapons at the altar (much to the horror of the chaplain). The small kitchen garden was a veritable wonderland for Jacob and his soldiers: despite the furious protestations of the cooks and gardeners, the plants and vegetable patches automatically became hazardous forests or jungles. Here, his troops would occasionally come across fearfully oversized insects, which they would inevitably be successful in vanquishing, if only after a loud and fearsome battle that typically left John and the other children puzzled. Inbetween the noises he made to imitate his imagined artillery, Jacob would talk endlessly of the detailed military manoeuvres he had read about in obscure old books or from indulgent members of his parents’ staff. He seemed to know about every second of countless battles from bygone eras, fought back before Rowenia was even a complete kingdom, and multiple separate kings and queens had existed across the country in their own small territories, constantly warring with one another to gain more land. He knew everything about the weapons they had used, the armour they had worn, and the battlefields on which they had fought.
Something about the Arvintans’ onslaught made John think of Jacob now, as he stared down at the toy soldier. Where had it come from? It must have been Jacob’s; despite John’s great efforts to avoid him as a child, Jacob and the ubiquitous model army was burned irrevocably into his memory. Jacob hadn’t usually played with the other royal children, but perhaps it was not inconceivable to suppose that one day he had decided to repurpose Princess Cecily’s dolls as warlike giants, or Prince Edmund’s toy drum as a near-impassible mountain, and one of his soldiers had been swept into the other children’s toy box along with everything else by the maids.
So as John’s ministers panicked, hastily sending out messengers to conscript enough men to have a hope of challenging Queen Olivia’s army, John asked for Jacob to be brought to the palace. Ignoring his advisors’ obvious bafflement (many of them remembered the odd little Tabloh boy from Poldena), John penned a note to be taken to Jacob, which promised him a real-life application for his interests. When the King’s messengers located Jacob at his hut on Heraney Isla (following a terrifying crossing to the island through the storm and a lengthy time searching for Jacob’s hut among the rocky beaches on the island’s wild south side), Jacob was predictably reluctant to leave. He had not-so-fond memories of Court, despite the imaginative wonderland he had found there. Following John’s (admittedly confusing) instructions, however, Sir Francis Camberley, the King’s chief advisor, reached into his pocket and took out the tiny soldier that John had found in his father’s trunk.
Jacob was not initially impressed. “I am not a child anymore, my lords!” he snapped, dismissively waving aside the soldier. “I am not in the habit of performing mock battles for my King’s amusement.”
“Of course not, Sir Jacob,” replied Sir Francis coolly. The ‘Sir’ was not accurate, and had been added in as a mistaken attempt to appeal to Jacob’s ego.
“Nor am I a Sir,” Jacob snapped again. “I am an honest man living a peaceful life, and that is how I wish to remain. The Court has never done anything for me, nor has my family, and I have no interest in becoming a friend to such a people. I shall let them alone with their grand ideas of power and influence.”
Whereupon Sir Francis, according to Jesper, gave the following grand speech: “A time is coming, sir, when none of us will be able to live a peaceful life any longer, however far we may venture in search of it. We find ourselves faced with something, the likes of which have never been seen in these islands before. We know not even what it is, nor what its intentions may be. But we are surrounded on all sides by an enemy who would surely do us grievous harm, and we cannot fight against it without appealing to the best among us, however they may have been spurned in easier times. Therefore I ask you, sir, to stand with your countrymen and use your knowledge to guide us towards victory.”
Still this was not sufficient. Jacob allegedly looked at Sir Francis down the length of his nose, sniffed, and said, “Fine words indeed, Sir Francis. Sadly I am not in the business of being charmed by fair words spoken by courtly wonders such as yourself. The easier times you speak of could never have been expected to last forever. If Rowenia finds herself so threatened, let her use her own wondrous powers to conquer the enemy; she who has thought so much of herself in the past. I can have no part in so magnificent an enterprise.”
With that, before Sir Francis or the other messengers could say anything more, Jacob retreated into his dilapidated hut and slammed the door shut.