House of Cards
The dice bounded across the worn table with a clatter, coming to a rest near the opposite side. Dreban Ardentus threw his hands up.
“Fives all around!”
Adrostus slammed his dice cup on the table.
“It just doesn’t seem fair! The Lords son barges into OUR nice and cozy guardhouse, sits down at OUR table, and then proceeds to take OUR money!”
“Calm down Adro.” Dreban said leaning out across the table, sweeping the small pile of silver that glittered in front of him. Chuckling to himself all the while.
Tembo, the eldest of the three, gathered the dice into his cup.
“You should listen to him Adro. If you want to see as many seasons as I have you must learn to relax…and take it easy.” Tembo muttered, tossing a few silvers to the center of the table, beginning a new pot
“Besides, Technically the money already belongs to him. Well, his father anyway.
Adrostus sat back in his chair, running his hand through his jet black hair, his flustered face regaining some of its original color.
“Well that doesn’t change the fact that i still have a family to take care of.’
Dreban place a hand on Adrostus’ shoulder,
“you know you have nothing to worry about. I’ll always make sure that you and yours are always in good care.”
Adrostus reached for his belt pouch,
“What about House Gravensythe? There is renewed talks of a coup-”
Tembo cut the young guard off.
“Way to lighten the mood.
Tembo was visibly annoyed by the direction that the conversation had taken
“There has always been talks my boy. Gravensythe are cowards and they would never risk such an ambitious endeavor. And thats the end of it”
A look of disdain painted Drebans face.
“Yes they are! And I would rather not have an otherwise pleasant evening with friends fouled by talks of ‘talks’!”
Adrostus let out a deep sigh.
“You are right. I shouldn’t have gone there.”
The three men played dice into the night until the first signs of dawn crept over the horizon.
Dreban snuck his way back into the Ardentus Estate, while the only activity was the servants scurrying about the halls of the great manor. Representatives from House Gravensythe were to be attending a banquet being held at the Ardentus Estate later in the evening. The Servants had their work cut out for them…
As Dreban moved through the halls, passing servants averted their gaze to the floor. An act that Dreban had grown most tired of. Its as it has always been and his father would have it no other way.House Ardentus had been in control of the Great Marbled Hall for the better part of 300 years. The Ardentus Estate has become an extension of the Great Marbled Hall itself, covering nearly 10 acres at the heart of the large trade city of Ventus. Ventus sits at a crossroads between the north and south and distant lands to the west. It has become a center for commerce in the lands where the Free Cities rule. The Great Marbled Hall rests at the center of Ventus. A center piece that represents the prosperity of the great city. Ventus has weathered through most of the hard times that have befallen fairly well, with House Ardentus at its head. Darvaken Ardentus is the Matriarch of the current generation. Ruling Ventus with a strong word and an even stronger arm. The only power that the minor houses and surrounding lordships have is the power that he lets them. With the exeption of House Gravensythe. Ardentus and Gravensythe have been at odds as long as anyone alive can remember. And as it is, neither house would last long if it were to come to all out war between the houses. And the alliance that they have formed is loose at best. The banquets held in the Marbled Hall are in place to make sure that Darvaken and Helos, the head of House Gravensythe, are on the level. And to make the citizens of Ventus rest easy.
Dreban opened the door to his chamber and stepped in throwing his woolen cloak across a chair resting by the door. A servant was in his room turning down his unused bed.
“Is that really necessary?”
He said, causing the servant to jump with a start.
“That is enough, you may leave.”
The look on his face was one of annoyance. Not for the servant being there. But for the simple fact that he needed one.
The servant hesitated a bit then gathered her supplies and hurried out of the room. Dreban threw himself on the half made bed and let go a deep breathe. The prospect of not getting any sleep didn’t sit well with him but it was his own fault. His late nights with Tembo and Adrostus was one of the few things he enjoyed in life. And he was will to loose a little sleep for it he decided. If his father new of his late night excursions, he would probably have the both of them exiled from Ventus or worse. Drebans mind wandered of as he tried to get what little sleep he could.
Tembo and Adrostus were the only ones that the Lords youngest son would call friends. They had both been there as long as he could remember. Tembo was more of a father to him than Darvaken could ever be. And Adrostus more of a brother to him than Vako and Dren combined. During the seasons of hunt Tembo was charged with the duty to take the Lords sons on hunts across the countryside. Vako and Dren always felt the ordeal beneath them. But Dreban took the adventures to heart, side by side with Adrostus, Tembos adopted son. They would play at a warriors while taking down whatever game they could, pretending that they were evil beasts ravaging the lands. Tembo taught Dreban and Adrostus the ways of the sword and bow. And skills that the two would need to be great adventurers. Over the years the three of them would become inseparable.
Drebans eyes shot open.
“M’lord?” came a voice familiar to him.
Dreban sat up and looked to the doorway. Adrostus stood waiting just inside his door. A look of uneasiness covered his face.
“Ah, I see the festivities are upon us!” Dreban said looking to the dress regalia Adrostus wore. “And don’t call me ’M’lord’. You of all should know how I hate that.”
Adrostus gave a nervous look down the hall behind him.
“Well you never know who might be around. Gotta play it safe.” A smile came to his face.
The smile faded. “The members of House Gravensythe have begun arriving. Though Helos will not be in attendance. Apparently he has come down with a fever and is bed ridden. His son, Gyven, has come in his stead.”
Dreban moved to get his formal attire from an armoire. “Why are you bothering me with this information? You know I care not for the banquet and such.” He flipped through the garments.
“Just seems odd to me is all.” the nervous look returning to his face. “Helos has never missed a banquet. And with the talks about the coup…” Adrostus trailed off. his gaze falling to the floor.
Dreban pulled a suitable tabard over his head. "Come on now. They are rumors and nothing more than that. We will have our feast, the Gravensythes will leave, and everything will be as it was.
Adrostus began to smile again. As if Drebans words had renewed his resolve. “You are probably right. Now. Lets not keep the guests waiting. On with you!”
Dreban Hurried out the door with Adrostus behind him.
The Banquet went as it usually did. The heads of Gravensythe, minus Helos, chattered with the heads of Ardentus. Discussing matters of civic nature, problems in the surrounding lordships, trade. The wiry Gyven sat next to Darvaken at the head of the table, speaking in hushed tones. Dren and Vako were busy charming maidens of Gravensythe, leaving the politickings to their father. Servants continued to bring food to the banquet hall late into the night. And Dreban was tired of the whole ordeal. When there was a lull in the raucous he excused himself and retired to his room. Within the next couple of hours the banquet had come to an end and the two houses said their farewells.
Dreban lay in his bed waiting for the time to pass so he could steal away to the guard house to throw the dice with Tembo and Adrostus. He new they would be there waiting for his arrival. They always were. The hours past and he was tired of waiting. He threw on the cloak that he had place on the chair, and that was miraculously where he left it. He opened hi door slowly and peeked his head out. Silent. Moonlight was shining through the windows of the corridor outside his room. and their wasn’t anyone in the area. “perfect.” He thought to himself. He crept down the corridor slowly as to not make a sound or risk waking his brothers. Whose rooms lay at the end of the hall. As he made his way past the door to Drens room he noticed that the door was open and there was a strong breeze coming through. In the moonlight he saw what appeared to be water spilled across the floor. And he moved closer to get a better look, his curiosity getting the better of him. Drebans heart stopped. Lying on the bed was Dren. His eyes were wide with terror and his jaw was agape as if screaming. The water was blood that was pouring from the throat that had been cut from ear to ear. Dreban stood in the door paralyzed. He looked to Vakos door and saw that it to was open, but could not bring himself to look. He must find Tembo and Adrostus! His thoughts were a blur as he made his way through the estate. The bodies of servants and aids lay strewn about the halls. Guards lay about without weapons drawn. The floors were covered in blood. The horror of what was happening came into focus as he neared the guard house. Then a figure erupted from the shadows. A swirl of Black cloak and darkness. The gleam of the moonlight shined on the wicked dagger in the attackers hand as he lunged for Dreban. Dreban sidestepped and caught the assassin in a grapple across his chest. The two of them went to the ground with a crash. Panic swept through Drebans body as the stark realization of what was about to happen washed over him. These may be his final moments. He would never see his friends again. The two men struggled on the ground. The assassin smashed the back of his head into Drebans jaw causing him to lose his grip. Dazed, Dreban lay on the ground. The assassin wresting himself free stood over Dreban. “This has been a long time coming spawn of Ardentus!” The dark figure yelled as he brought the dagger up for the kill. In a flash the dagger flew from the hands of the assassin as the end of a blade burst through his chest. His last breathe escaping in a cloud of mist. The attacker collapsed on top of Dreban with a thud. Dreban shoved the lifeless body off of him onto the ground and got to his feet. In the moonlight he saw the face of his savior.
“Adro!” Dreban shouted, as the relief of seeing his friend washed over him.
Adrostus’ face was pale in the moonlight. His eyes distant. Dreban could see the blood coming from his throat. Terror once again took over Drebans body. Adrostus dropped to his knees and began to slump forward. Dreban jumped to his friends side, catching him. Adro struggled to speak, blood gurgling in his throat as the words came.
“I’m sorry brother…I have failed you…” Adrostus said as the blood came from his mouth. Find…Tembo outside…the city…"
Tears began to stream down Drebans face. ’No, no, NO! you are coming with me!!"
Adrostus looked to Dreban, the distance growing farther until it was gone.
“Nooo!!!” Dreban clutch Adrostus head to his chest as he wailed. He s could see shadows moving about in the darkness, or so he thought, and he knew he had to leave his friend or share his fate. He took up Adrostus’ sword and looked to the fallen assassin. A metal medallion hung around his neck. The seal of Gravensythe glinting in the moonlight. He ripped it from the corpse and made his way out of Ventus.
Tembo was tending a horse in a small grove of trees about twenty minutes outside the city.
Drebans face was covered with Adrostus’ drying blood. His tears leaving streams down his face. Tembo looked tired yet relieved when he saw Dreban. Tembo spoke,
“I’m sorry my boy, House Ardentus is no more…” Tembo stared back towards the city.
Dreban sat at the foot of a tree weeping. “Why…? Adro…”
Tembo moved to his side and put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “You must leave this place. Go far away…and never come back. The Gravensythe blades will not rest until the Ardentus line is gone…” Tembo trailed off.
Dreban looked up. “What about you? What will you do? You aren’t going back there are you?! We can go together!” Dreban stood as if to block him from returning to the city.
“Worry not my boy. You are safe and that is all that matters. I’m not going to lose another son on this night…” The pain was in Tembos voice and on his face.
“Get on this horse and ride, and don’t look back.” Tembo pulled the reigns of the horse towards Dreban. Dreban grabbed Tembo in a hug while tying to keep more tears from coming. Tembo held Dreban at arms length, holding his shoulders. “We have no time for this you must go.” Tears now forming at the corners of Tembos eyes. Dreban mounted the horse and circled it in place. “Good bye my freind.” At that Tembo smacked the hind quarters of the horse and Dreban sped of into the dark of night.
*3 years later *
The tavern was a raucous. The air was thick with smoke from the hearth burning at the corner of the establishment. The dice and silver were flowing in abundance at a table set at the middle of the floor. The last son of Ardentus sat at the far end of the table. Surrounded by a motley group of drunkards and gamblers. A tiefling sat to his right. After a bad roll of the dice the tiefling threw his dice cup into the middle of the table and got up from is chair. Dreban grabbed him by the arm as he got up.
“Where are you going? Dreban said.
The tiefling looked down at him, surprised. "I’m out. Games over for me. My coffers have run dry.
“Here buy back in with this. It might turn your luck around.” Dreban said while handing over a silver medallion hanging from a broken chain. The medallion bore a dagger wrapped with a serpent.
The tiefling held out his hand, grabbing the medallion. He held it up in the dim light, inspecting it. “It just might!” He said returning to his seat.
“I never caught your name stranger. They call me Ruselin.” Said the tiefling holding out his hand.
Dreban hesitated for a moment.
“My name is Adrostus, but my friends call me Adro.”