Chapter 13 Part 7 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1
Warin and his men entered the city at Marketgate without remark, the Guards assuming they were Travelers come to entertain the crowds for coppers, or perhaps to sneak into one of the public feasts setting up in the city squares. Times were pinched, but there would be at least a little for everyone, if not a feast for all. Turning away the poor and unwashed from such a banquet would earn Amma's wrath, though the harvests had been small enough in the last few years that some thought She was angry already.
The Market was empty of sellers, all business suspended for the coronation celebrations, but even taking that into consideration, the City seemed threadbare and patched, its people moving slowly, and far too many beggars in the streets. Its shabbiness appalled the returning Prince. Had times been so very hard?
The band paused at a fountain among a small knot of men refreshing themselves in the midst of assembling long boards into feasting tables. "I tell you what, old son," Warin heard one huge, scarred man say to his neighbor, "I can't help but think what that Prince Warin wouldn't have let things come to such a pass. He was always good to his men, never put himself above us. Ate same as we, slept same as we. Never his like, even braver than his father, Harla carry him home."
The Prince cast an eye over the man, and then out onto the milling crowds. He hadn't commanded in ten years; time to see if he'd forgotten how. "Did you serve with Warin?" he said.
"Where d'ye think I got this?" said the scarface, tapping the mark on his cheek, an ugly thing that ran from his left ear to his chin. "That I did, against the Northern Tribes up at Montesurbis--in Leute, too, at Dordemon, when we was nigh-on boys. Pagg-forsaken heathens, we drove 'em back into the Wastes, didn't we! Prince Warin, rest his bones, was a great man, and would have been a great king. Not like the Regent, who already taxes us past the fat into the lean. Takes the milk and the cow, he does."
"And the farm, and the farmer's wife," added another man.
"What is your name?" Warin asked the scarred man.
"What's yours, there, Jemmy Rustic?" snorted the man.
"My name is Warin."
"Ha! And I'm Prince Hildin!" he said to the chortles of the other townsmen.
"You served with Warin, you say, and you do not know him when he stands before you?" said Connin.
"Clear off, Traveler!" said a ruddy man. "Ain't you got a bear to lead, or your mama to whore out or sumfing?" The townsmen drew together, anticipating a fight. Connin held his men back with a sharp word; they formed a sullen wall, with Warin before them.
Word spread; the Travelers were putting on a play, something about the dead Prince Warin: cheek enough on the coronation day of the Regent to draw attention. The curious and the bored gathered around the fountain, and Warin leaped up onto its lip. "Men of Tremont!" he cried. "I am Warin, son of Gethin, come back to take his throne!"
A squadron of Guards pushed their way through the growing crowd, led by a ferocious-looking Brother. "Clear off!" he roared. "You up there! Get down!"
"It's Prince Warin, come back to us! Don't you reckonize your King, Brother?" jeered the ruddy man.
"The King's in his Keep and all's right with the world," said the Brother, but he peered up at Warin anyway. Trouble creased his brow, just visible under his helm. "I knew the Prince in his youth. You are very like, I admit it, and your speech is fine, for a Traveler. But it's been ten years since he disappeared, and His Highness says the Good Prince is dead."
Warin jumped down from the fountain's lip. "Even if you don't know me, I know you, Brother Cor." The Brother started at his name. Warin glanced over to the feast preparations; a cooking fire burned beneath a spitted lamb. He snatched a flame from it and formed it into a wand of light.
The crowd murmured uneasily. "I seen nobles do that," said the scarred man, shifting from foot to foot.
Warin spread his hands; the wand lengthened and thickened into a staff. He spun it, and struck the ground with one end. A wall of flames sprung up around the panicked townsmen, flames licking at their feet and rising high into the sky, filling the air with the scent of fire and smoke.
All but the Brother screamed for mercy; instead, the cleric stood still and silent, and the flames shone bright on his steel chestplate and helm. Warin waved his hand. The fire leaped back into his staff, leaving only the smell of scorched air.
The Brother dropped to his knees. "Your Majesty," he said, presenting his sword. "Kill me for my offense."
"Never would I do such a thing, Brother," answered Warin, raising him up. "Keep your sword, and use it for Tremont."
The townfolk had dropped to their knees along with the Brother. The scarred man spoke up: "Only seen Old King Gethin and his sons do sumfing like that, or the Black Man"--he and the other men made Amma's sign--"and that's the truth. Please forgive us, Your Majesty. I am your loyal man, and always was!"
"Rise, please, rise, all of you!" Warin took the scarred man's hand, lifted him up, and said, "What is your name?"
"Willum, you were with me in the north?"
"Aye, I was a chief pikesman, my lord, under Brother Gerral of the King's Own. After Montesurbis and Dordemon, I'd follow you anywheres!" His face contorted with emotion, puckering the slash down his face. "Sire, we thought you was dead. We thought as how your brother would rule and we'd be under a rougher thumb than we was already. Now you've come back from the dead--it's a miracle, sire, the hand of Amma come down and give us a miracle!"
"No miracle--I was never dead, nor will be until I see my brother in the Hill," said Warin. He leaped nimbly onto the fountain's rim again to stand above the crowd. "My father is dead of old age, not by my hand. The prophecy is broken, and I have come home to find my brother has lied to you, stolen from you, and taken the throne. Will you stand by me and take it back?" A full-throated howl of assent went up from the crowd. He nodded. "These men around me--Brother Cor, these Travelers and their Prince, and Willum here who was with me at Montesurbis and Dordemon"--Willum swelled with pride, and his fellows elbowed him--"are to be accorded respect as my companions. Listen to their counsel. Cor, send the Brothers at Farr's Temple the news, I'll need them by my side."
"I'll send a Guardsman to the Armory as well, sire," said Cor, but Warin stopped him.
"No. There's a chance we may not get there in time to stop the coronation. If they see the offering fire smoke rise from the Temple, the Guards will turn against us." Warin turned back to the gathering. "All you women, spread the word throughout the city--I am home! I go to the Father's Temple to oust the usurper and take my rightful place. Let my people come with me!"
Clumps of men joined the crowd as they passed through the City until there were at least a thousand, with twenty Brothers beside and more on the way. Warin led them on towards the steps leading to the Temple of Pagg, on the highest and sheerest of the six Temple-crowned hills within the city's walls—a bluff, its long, steep switchback roads wide enough for four to walk abreast. It would be a long climb; he walked faster.
Warin let the people's love, relief and trust wash over him. Any doubts he'd had about becoming King vanished.