While the execution of Duke Belvoir caused upheaval in Fontaine, routine quickly returned. Several weeks later, the city seemed the same as ever, and the arrival of a carriage with ten protectors aroused little attention. Only those few who recognised the surcoats of the guards stared in wonder; it was an ashen tree on black, signalling the Temple in Middanhal and marking the wearer as a Templar knight.
As the carriage and riders entered the yard of the Raven Court, the sisters were among those who knew the tabard of the Templars. All eyes turned towards the carriage, realising who was inside. The door opened, and a small, old man in grey robes stepped out with a kind smile.
While one of the Templars spoke with the norns present, bidding them to summon the Council of Three, the remainder formed a protective circle around the Highfather. He crossed the courtyard to drink from the sacred fountain, bending down with some difficulty. One of his protectors helped him to stand up afterwards. Thanking the Templar, the priest adjusted his robe and sat down upon the stonework surrounding the fountain.
The Templars remained in a circle around the Highfather; while their expressions were blank, their great swords and imposing presence kept everyone at bay. In contrast, Septimus sent smiling eyes in every direction from inside his ring of protectors.
After a while, the Veiled appeared along with Sister Rosalie, the former hiding her face as customary. By now, the courtyard was full of servants, norns, acolytes, guards, justiciars, and anyone else who dwelt in the Raven Court, and all were staring at the little man in the grey robe. The Templars pushed people back and let Septimus approach the sisters leading the Order of the Raven. As he stood before them, Rosalie knelt, kissing his hand. After a moment’s hesitation, the Veiled did the same, and she quickly stood up again. A tall woman, she had to look down to lock eyes with the Highfather. “Archon,” she greeted him, “we had no word of your coming.”
“I saw no need to kick up dust,” Septimus smiled. “You are Sister Rosalie?” he questioned the second norn.
“I am, Holy One,” she beamed, almost shaking with excitement.
He nodded a bit to himself. “Only two of you.”
“Sister Jocelyne has not yet been replaced,” the Veiled explained stiffly. “Her demise was so tragic and sudden, we are still in mourning.”
“Of course.” Septimus nodded a few more times. “Strange business. The return of Hraban, murder in this very chamber.”
“The heretic did not claim to be Hraban,” the high priestess corrected him impatiently. “He merely espoused the same false beliefs.”
“I see. Same unfortunate result.”
“It was terrible,” Rosalie interjected, nodding vigorously. “Both their deaths should have been avoided.”
“I agree. In fact, I believe I sent you a warning.” Septimus’ voice grew harsh, and the onlookers exchanged glances. Rosalie stepped back several paces while her superior straightened her back.
“This was an internal matter,” the Veiled retorted tight-lipped. “It concerns only me as high priestess of the sibyls.”
Septimus gave another nod, glancing around the room. “I will admit that.” He returned his gaze to the Veiled. “Your meddling in the affairs of this realm are very much my concern, on the other hand.”
Gasps of disbelief could be heard across the courtyard. “Archon –” the Veiled tried to intervene, but she was immediately interrupted.
“You conspired to cause changes on such a scale, the upheaval would have shaken the foundation of the Alliance of Adalmearc,” Septimus spoke, raising his voice. It rang across the courtyard. “Did you not consider the reprisals against our faith? Not to mention that you set aside your sacred duties as servants to the divines, tainting your office with profane dealings.” All kindness was gone, and the little man seemed fused with anger.
“I have done nothing of the sort!” the Veiled defended herself with a shaky voice. “Where is the evidence?”
“I know!” Septimus roared, which seemed incapable for a man of his stature. “I know of the messages sent in the dead of night, of plans made, of the blood that stains your face!” His finger was pointed in accusation at her.
The norn’s hands shot up to her veil as if she could physically feel the stains underneath the fabric. “It’s a lie,” she claimed, her voice growing weak. “It’s all a lie. I did it all for the faith.”
“You did it for your own ambition,” Septimus declared. “Adeline,” he continued coldly. “I have come to disrobe you.” The crowd erupted in murmurs, but none intervened; the Templar stood like a fortress surrounding the Highfather and the Veiled, discouraging any from approaching.
“No!” came the outburst from the Veiled, but there was no mercy to be found. Septimus gave a short nod, and two Templars grabbed hold of the norn, tearing the veil and red robe from her. Left only with her linen dress underneath, they pushed her to her knees in front of Septimus; transformed from a kind, old man in plain robes, he stared down upon her naked face like a vengeful god.
“Adeline, you have forsaken your holy vows,” he began, stretching out his hand to hold it over her head. He continued with a chanting voice. “By the Seven and Eighth, this doom I proclaim upon you.”
“No,” she sobbed, grabbing the torn veil from the ground and pressing it against her face.
“Let no shrine in this land offer you sanctuary. No shelter may you find. The river shall not slake your thirst, the field will not satiate your hunger, the forest will give no succour. Never shall you rest where the eyes of the dragon, the raven, the bull, the horse, the bear, the hart, and the eagle are upon you,” Septimus continued. He ceased chanting and continued with an icy tone. “Adeline, I name you oath breaker.”
The Templars let go of the disgraced norn, and she collapsed onto the cobbled stones, dissolving into tears. Without another word, Septimus entered his carriage, and his guards mounted their horses. They departed from the courtyard, leaving every person stunned.
While the fate of Duke Belvoir had given Fontaine something to discuss, his execution had not impacted the city as such; to most residents of Fontaine, the duchy of Belvoir was in the other end of the realm and of little interest. The Veiled Sister being disrobed was another matter; every man or woman in the capital held one of two opinions. Either it was felt that the Highfather had overstepped his authority and like a foreign invader violated Ealond as assuredly as if he had murdered the king, or people were convinced he had done so with good reason. Usually, those reasons were aided by wild stories concerning debauchery in the Raven Court. The conspicuous death of a heretic and a member of the Council of Three prior to the disrobing of the Veiled only fuelled these rumours further.
No doubt Fontaine could have discussed this matter for at least two or three more weeks, had not other news reached the capital. These tidings arrived from Belvoir, and the good citizens of Fontaine finally had a reason to care about the duchy. It turned out that while Duke Gaspard had brought a number of soldiers with him during his ill-fated attempt to usurp the throne, he had left most of his army back in Belvoir. Furthermore, few of his soldiers had actually been apprehended in Fontaine; when the revolt failed, most had simply found their way home in the following weeks. Measured in arms, Belvoir was the most powerful of the duchies of Ealond, and despite Gaspard’s failed plans, this strength remained. His son, Alois, had shown himself aware of this.
After making an example of Gaspard, the king had been gathering his other vassals and their armies to Fontaine, preparing a campaign. Reluctantly, the guilds were supplying provisions of every sort, and speculation was rampant as to the king’s intentions. While preparations were still underway, Rainier commanded part of the army to march east swiftly under the command of trusted, loyal vassals. It eventually became clear that while the king had another campaign in mind entirely, he had decided to occupy the region of Belvoir while his remaining armies gathered. This would prevent any kind of unrest and allow his choice for the new duke to assume the position and consolidate it, keeping the largest fief in the realm on hands friendly to the king.
As it turned out, the current duke, albeit new to the title himself, had surmised as much and gathered his own armies. While mostly unproven in war, Alois did not seem hindered by this or in any way timid. He had ambushed the king’s forces sent to wrest control of the duchy from him, routing them completely with few losses. As summer began, those were the news that reached Fontaine and King Rainier, making all forget about the Highfather’s visit the city; Alois, the new duke of Belvoir, was in open rebellion against the throne.
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Bio: Indie writer with various projects, though The Chronicles of Adalmearc is the one dearest to me. Because of this, I have decided to make it free to reach as many readers as possible. If you enjoy it, I would ask you to consider joining my Patreon; all tiers from $5 and above will earn towards receiving the full series as hardcovers. Advance chapters are available from $2 and upwards. See also my website for more information on my work and world.