Grim Tidings

Grim Tidings

A Chapter by SpeedyHobbit Armstrong
"

Kiran did not notice their bewilderment. He stared at the scene with a sinking heart. Fragments of broken clay pots littered the ground. One large jagged piece had blood staining its edges.

"

            The first place Kiran glanced when he entered the Duke of Northchester's dining hall was towards the back of the room. He looked first at the long oaken table designated for the temporary use of the refugees. The end of that table, Folco's seat, was vacant. The paladin’s heartbeat picked up. Did this mean he was still out there in the dark, unprotected and possibly in danger?  Calm down, he chided himself. There is still hope. Perhaps the prince had decided to sit with Lindo in another spot, likely near others their age. He swept his gaze up and down both sides of the table, scanning the faces of the conversing occupants and making sure to pay especially close attention to the younger hobbits. No sign of Folco or Lindo anywhere. 


Sighing, the paladin swiveled his head towards the dais. Duke Ivan was in his usual spot at the center of the table overseeing the hall, occupied with issuing instructions to a servant carving a roast chicken. Beside him, his cupbearer was lowering a glass of wine to the table. Kiran tilted his head slightly in hopes that he would catch his lord’s eye. Around him, the hall was beginning to fill. Several times, a hobbit’s voice greeted him from waist height or below.  Kiran mumbled a polite response to each refugee that addressed him, but he was in no mood for conversation. What was he going to say anyway? It would not do, after all, to say "I hope you're having a good evening... oh and by the way, your prince and his closest friend are unaccounted for." 

 

 At last, he locked gazes with a set of blue eyes from the platform. The Duke jerked his head, mostly-gray locks rustling with the motion. He then beckoned Kiran to join him, indicating the vacant chair beside him typically occupied by Lord Hector, the Duke’s oldest son. As the young lord was visiting the military city of Fort Cyrus to the northeast, near the Cancalian border with Baur, Kiran would not need to worry about the awkward situation of his same-age friend turning up and wondering why his seat was taken. 


He strode across the granite floor towards the platform, the taps of his leather boots very loud in comparison to the  halflings’ near-soundless footfalls. “Your Grace?” Kiran solicited, inclining his head in respectful greeting, once he was in front of the dais.


The Duke waved over the chair to his left with a quick sweep of his hand for the second time. “As you are aware, Lord Hector shall not be here this evening. Please, be seated.” Kiran walked to the three steps leading onto the dais, ascended them, and strode around the table, whose cherry-wood top was more polished than the beech tables around the hall, to comply.  The Duke held his pointer and middle fingers up in the air. A tankard of ale followed by a china plate laden with venison, boiled potatoes, bread, mashed turnips garnished with parsley and gravy was deposited before the paladin. Kiran folded his hands before him, waiting, as one of the servants carved him several pieces of the chicken’s side. The Duke of Northchester, who was frowning at Folco’s empty seat, had not yet touched his own plate, so he wouldn’t either. Out on the floor, he noticed the hobbits were doing the same. Some of the younger children were trying to start their meal, but the parents were either placing their hands on top of their child’s or prising the utensils out of their grasps to prevent it. 


“Your Grace, according to some of the refugee children, Prince Folco went off by himself and has not been seen since,” Kiran informed his lord. The Duke looked at him, saying nothing, with a neutral expression. He bit his lip. When he could no longer stand the silence, he elaborated “Lindo Rivers went after him to try to find him, but he hasn't been seen by anyone either. He's the one closest to Prince Folco, the one sent to speak on his behalf when I first asked about the possibility of talking to your brother -His Majesty-about granting those refugees asylum. He was the one who had his ring when I first got back." If anything would ensure the Duke remembered who Lindo was, that would.


The Duke’s face remained impassive. “I see. Yes, I remember Lindo Rivers. Well, let us hope both of them return soon.” He stood up. “All of my servants and guests are welcome to commence their meals.” The smattering of Cancalian guests and vassals who were assigned to eat the same time as their lord immediately obeyed. However, none of the hobbits moved.  Kiran stared in consternation. The Duke had noticed as well, for he did not yet sit. Then it occurred to Kiran. Usually, if it was not one of the times Folco allowed himself to be persuaded to join the Duke at the high table, they signaled to each other before beginning their meals at the same time. He looked up to catch his lord’s eye. “Your Grace,” said Kiran, “I think they’re waiting for Prince Folco. They might be worried about upsetting him by eating before he gets into the hall.” 


Duke Ivan gave a single nod. He raised his hand for silence again.“All of my guests are welcome to commence their meals,” he repeated, pausing before elaborating, “Cancalians and foreign guests alike. It is on the host’s orders.” A lot of heads turned towards each other at the refugee table. There were a few shrugs as the hobbits started their suppers. Satisfied, Duke Ivan sat down, shaking his head. “I am glad they finally got the hint that I intend to take full responsibility when and if Prince Folco gets here and wonders why his subjects are eating without him,” he said in an undertone. Kiran nodded. “I take it you have not informed them of his absence? No? Good, I am glad you understand the damaging effect that telling them their ruler’s whereabouts are unknown could have on their morale.”


Kiran nodded. He’d certainly been acquainted with the Northchester branch of the Benoits long enough to understand why secrecy was necessary when it came to things like illness, injury and disappearance of rulers. “Naturally. I have no intention of announcing that to them. Only those who need to know, which is almost none of them, will know, and I will make sure they know they are doing Prince Folco no favors telling everyone he’s missing.” He would only tell them if- his stomach turned at the thought- Folco turned up dead, or too badly injured to conceal. Excuses would need to be devised for his absence.


After resuming his seat and taking his first bite of venison, the Duke sighed. “I’m sure you recall my own sons frequently did things like that. Herman and Howard still try, from what I hear of their doings at school.” Kiran said nothing. That was certainly true. Howard, the youngest, was especially prone to it. Even when he and Hector had been classmates at Bolingbarke University, five-year-old Howard had shown a penchant for running away from his guards. “I only hope Prince Folco had the sense to carry weapons with him while out.”


Kiran shook his head in the negative. The Duke rubbed his forehead, the skin shifting around under the pressure of his fingers.. “We’d best pray to Heironeus he does not encounter any danger then. Do you know whether he brought anything of value with him?”


“He did not; I checked his belongings. Everything he had is still in there”


Duke Ivan looked thoughtful. He took another bite of venison, looking pointedly at Kiran’s untouched plate through his chewing. The paladin, taking the hint, put his fork and knife to his potatoes. “Did it look as though Folco brought things he would need at an inn with him?”


“No, all of his possessions were upstairs,” Kiran replied after swallowing the mouthful of potato. No hobbit, he thought, would ever travel without careful planning if they could help it, and Folco would have taken anything he needed for comfort.


“I see. We shall have to start a search if he does not return by the time supper is cleaned up,” said the Duke, spearing a piece of potato with his silver fork. “Anyhow, the spies that were sent out after you informed me of what happened at King Hrothgar’s feast have returned.”


Kiran’s head perked up in interest. Those spies, he knew, were sent by the Duke the instant Kiran alerted him to the plight of these hobbits and his role in the drama. “Have they, my lord? What news?”


“It seems as though there have been a lot of changes since my brother visited them last spring,” the Duke said heavily. “Perhaps you noticed some of these things, unless they were instated after your visit, or more accurately, because of your visit?” Kiran looked miserably at the table, wondering what the Drémeadow King Irwin had known prior to his queen’s poisoning had been. “Come now,” the Duke added hastily, “I have told you that I do not hold you to blame for what happened. You did all you possibly could have done, and both the refugees you brought with you earlier this month and Prince Folco corroborated your story.”


Kiran quietly answered, “I know, my lord. Please, if it is your wish for me to know, tell me what has happened in Drémeadow since I ah, left there.”


The Duke frowned deeply. “I must warn you, none of the news is good.”


“I feared you would say as much, my lord,” said Kiran quietly, stroking his chin and making a note to shave as his hand located stubble. His thoughts went again to Folco, who would also need to know of the unhappy tidings, and to the feast. If the deplorable actions of King Hrothgar and those in his employ against the now-refugees, his own son included, were any indication, conditions could potentially be dreadful indeed. He’d hoped that the reigning Foxtrot would treat the population better than he had those who’d dissented over the matter of the paladin, but the look on the Duke’s face suggested otherwise. He inhaled deeply. “I am ready to hear it.” Folco, of course, would need to be told whatever it was immediately. “Unless you prefer we locate Prince Folco first?” 


The Duke shook his head. “He does need to know, but we need to decide how to tactfully tell him- this is quite a lot, and given this is his father we’re discussing and his youth, we will need to be delicate. Anyhow, here goes…”


            Nothing could  have prepared Kiran for what he heard. The Duke’s account of what his spies had discovered started innocuously enough. There was the food rationing, which was common in countries facing famine but unreasonable for a place like Drémeadow that exported far more than it imported in trade and had comparatively few if any problems with farming. Kiran could not name a single instance he’d heard of the halflings experience a dearth in crops in his memory. Then again, the questionable act of burning food storehouses owned by hobbits considered traitors, contents and all, certainly would cause a shortage. 


            Even more disturbing was Hrothgar Foxtrot’s latest ideas on maintaining law and order. The decree that all Drémeadow residents were required to procure and carry identity papers from local nobility, constabulary or other such officials was innocuous enough; many other lands had similar requirements. However, the returning spies had also reported that many guards and local watchmen were employing unnecessarily forceful measures against the people. The lockups, which Kiran knew were formerly seldom used except for the very worst of criminals, had become overcrowded in the past few weeks. “According to my spies, the halflings- hobbits- there are very skittish, as though they expect to be attacked at any moment.” That did not shock the paladin given the behavior of Drémeadow’s law enforcement.  The worst incidents included a middle-aged hobbit being beaten nearly to death for insulting an orc guard and the group of adolescents arrested and threatened with execution for referring to Folco’s older brother Odo as “Prince Odorous.”  The Duke’s spies even had comments on the members of the royal family themselves. “They tell me the Foxtrots are becoming a rare sight outside the walls of the Foxtrots’ palace, or so the Drémeadow subjects are saying. They’re also heavily guarded anytime one or more comes out.” That aspect of the Drémeadow tidings was odd. Although King Hrothgar and Queen Arabella had always been accompanied, Folco and his siblings had always gone out with a driver at most, although Kiran suspected frequent use of concealed hobbits at times they were seemingly alone.   


            “It seems quite a lot has changed after Queen Arabella’s poisoning.” The grim news made the paladin feel how he vaguely recollected feeling when ill with stomach ailments. As a paladin, he’d been gifted with complete immunity to disease ever since he was fifteen. The time he’d received that gift had been especially memorable because he was in a Bolingbarke hospital near death from blood poisoning after a minor wound had taken the rot. However, this imperviousness to illness did not prevent him from feeling as though his stomach would turn inside out in reaction to grim news like this. 


            The Duke transitioned into local matters that Kiran would need to increase efforts toward remedying at Headquarters. For instance, there was the steady upturn in crime after dark over the past few months at the hands of brigands. Kiran barely heard him, though fortunately he’d already noticed the trend and delegated the task of hiring twenty new people to his assistant. He was not worried about the expense; if the Duke objected, which was unlikely because Cancalia had been blessed with a generous ruling family, he would offer to take a pay cut for the good of Northchester.  He could not stop thinking about how it had been his presence that instigated all this, nor the myriad grim fates that could befall the young prince if he wasn’t found soon. 


His focus sharpened only when the Duke returned to the topic of the halflings. Unbeknownst to most of them at present, there were partially constructed refugee barracks in a near-uninhabited area in the southern region of Cancalia.”They’re also clearing fifteen acres of trees to make room for them to grow crops,” he added. “Our land is not quite the same as that of Drémeadow, or so I’m told, but I expect they should be able to figure it out well enough. They are, after all, from the place leading the continent in agriculture by a considerable amount.” He stroked his small beard, wryly adding “at least, when they aren’t destroying their own surplus.” 


The Duke was also searching for instructors in the art of war. “I’ve finally found an archery one with enough skill of his own to instruct the halfling children,” he explained, “although it is swordplay they really need help in.” There were also plans in the works for contacting the nation’s allies in case Drémeadow learned where Kiran, Folco and the others were located. “Doubtless our offering these refugees quarters and our protection is tantamount to severing our alliance with Drémeadow. At the very least,” the Duke commented with a nod over towards the table of hobbits, noticing Kiran opening his mouth to comment that it might even be considered an act of war. He twisted his cloth between his fingers. “I do wish my brother would return from his journey so I might tell him what is afoot. Do you know I haven’t heard from him since last year?” Kiran’s eyes widened. The Duke had mentioned he was late in returning before, but it was not unusual for Benoits to be caught up by business abroad. A lack of communication, on the other hand, was unsettling. “Between you and me, I’m starting to grow anxious about his safety. My sister-in-law’s last messenger here told me she has not heard from him either, although she does not want too many outside the family knowing.” He gave Kiran a pointed stare that communicated what he wanted in no certain terms. “She’s already sending people out to look for him. I will start contacting our allies myself about what’s happening with Drémeadow if things start looking dire, but I would much rather not make that move without King Irwin’s approval if at all possible. If anything, the Queen is visiting soon. I will discuss my ideas with her.”


            Kiran nodded. “I understand, your Grace. May I suggest something?” The Duke waved him on. “If we do not find Prince Folco or Lindo Rivers by tomorrow, we ought to assume the worst-case scenario has happened, meaning he’s fallen into enemy hands. Drémeadow has likely sent people to seek him out in other countries, my lord.  While I am certainly aware bounty hunters are not permitted to capture anyone here without first acquiring our approval and certainly not to kill their quarry, it would be foolish to assume there is not at least one clever enough to evade even the best of our people.” The Duke stroked his chin, looking pensive. “We already know Wanted posters for me exist in Rheeding; you informed me of that yourself. Anyhow, my lord, may I have permission to borrow two of your hounds skilled in following scents? I wish to have them follow Lindo and Prince Folco’s scents to find out where those two have been recently.”


            “You have my permission,” the Duke assented. “I’ll let you use Wilhelmina and Herschel. When I purchased Wilhelmina and Herschel, I was told their tracking is the stuff of legend. They have lived up to it in boar-hunting but I would be most interested to learn whether it carries over to humans. Or halflings.


            “Let us find out,” Kiran said as casually as though he planned to search for a lost trinket and not two missing refugees. 


            “Indeed. And let us hope we find nothing more than those two carousing in a tavern, as many lads their age are wont to do.”




© 2014 SpeedyHobbit Armstrong


Author's Note

SpeedyHobbit Armstrong
I have the strong feeling this is one of my weaker chapters, though I am not certain as to why even with the revision. Any ideas you have on strengthening the piece would be valuable (Thank you AH Pinley for pointing out the necessity of having more about Duke Ivan!)

Do I need more of anything, be it dialogue, internal thoughts, scene description, or keeping things moving?

My Review

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Featured Review

This is definitely not a weak chapter by any means! I love what you did in this chapter, continuing the story at a great pace. Your characters are very easy to relate to, which makes the story even better for me. If I get attached to the characters then I'm hooked to a story in no time and that's exactly what you have done for me here. Well done and can't wait to see what's next. :)

~Stefanie

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 5 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

SpeedyHobbit Armstrong

5 Years Ago

Aw, thanks so much! I'm glad I'm pulling that off for Kiran and the characters. It's definitely impo.. read more



Reviews

Another good one, well done.

Posted 5 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

SpeedyHobbit Armstrong

5 Years Ago

Why thank you my friend!
"Anyhow, here goes" sounded strange coming from the Duke.
southern region of Cancalia.”They’re also clearing - the quotation mark is backwards.
“I’ll let you use Wilhelmina and Herschel. When I purchased Wilhelmina and Herschel - awkward name repetition.

I recommend putting a bit more explanation into why the duke is looking for an archery instructor for the refugees. Unless I've forgotten, shouldn't the duke discuss the role of the refugees. I know the situation in Dremeadow is bad, but I feel like the Duke is jumping the gun on war preparation and assuming that the refugees will be directly involved.

Posted 5 Years Ago


C. Rose

5 Years Ago

Folco perhaps
C. Rose

5 Years Ago

Or Kiran for convenience
SpeedyHobbit Armstrong

5 Years Ago

Seems a good call. I am messing with the beginning a bit, I stuck in one already with Kiran and a co.. read more
your prince and the kid he's always been with since we left Dremeadow are unaccounted for.
- "he's always been with since we left Dremeadow" is bulky



Posted 5 Years Ago


SpeedyHobbit Armstrong

5 Years Ago

Aaaand fixed, though not too thrilled with my internet for making me require 15 minutes to fix one t.. read more
C. Rose

5 Years Ago

Hmm. New typo. "Itwould not do" - same area - just missing a space. It seems that line is cursed :D
SpeedyHobbit Armstrong

5 Years Ago

Hehe, fixed!
One of your best qualities is that you have such a unique writing style. Your prose are always colorful.
You're worried that this is one of your weaker chapters, but I think the primary weakness is the sheer length of it. I would recommend cutting it in half if you can, but this is really just a personal preference.
There are a few formatting issues (sometimes there aren't line breaks between paragraphs, some aren't indented, etc.) but those are easily fixed. Some periods at the end of dialog that should be commas and what not as well.
I also had to concentrate on the dialog portions because you break your dialog up with action a lot. Sometimes it's a break to show a reaction or action from the character not speaking and this is a little disorienting because most prose avoid that.
I also thought there were one or two paragraphs that were a little too lengthy and could be cut into two or three paragraphs. This is a stylistic choice. So, maybe it shouldn't be worried about.
The conversation with the Duke was my favourite part.
Markups here: https://diigo.com/01znmu
Sorry if that was too much nit-picking. It was a long chapter so I had a lot to look at.
good job!

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 5 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

jjwilbourne

5 Years Ago

I think that's an excellent place to split the chapter.
I like to think of chapter breaks as a.. read more
SpeedyHobbit Armstrong

5 Years Ago

Okies! I'll give a heads up if I split it (though you'll recognize it Im guessing) so you know to go.. read more
SpeedyHobbit Armstrong

5 Years Ago

Aaaaand chapter is split! I broke it into two, and "Twice Fallen" now stands between the two halves .. read more
This is definitely not a weak chapter by any means! I love what you did in this chapter, continuing the story at a great pace. Your characters are very easy to relate to, which makes the story even better for me. If I get attached to the characters then I'm hooked to a story in no time and that's exactly what you have done for me here. Well done and can't wait to see what's next. :)

~Stefanie

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 5 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

SpeedyHobbit Armstrong

5 Years Ago

Aw, thanks so much! I'm glad I'm pulling that off for Kiran and the characters. It's definitely impo.. read more
I agree that this is certainly not a weak chapter. I'm still captivated by this vivid world you've created and thank you for allowing the reader into it! The shadow of the authoritarian regime continues to spread.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 5 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

SpeedyHobbit Armstrong

5 Years Ago

Thanks so much for reviewing! Yeah, things are definitely starting to look grim for Dremeadow. The r.. read more
I don't think it's weak. It's a little long, but that's just my own opinion. I don't like long chapters. I keep getting comments that I should make my own chapters longer.

I language you are using is authentic. It gives the story an antique feel.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 6 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

SpeedyHobbit Armstrong

6 Years Ago

Thanks so much! Was there anything you felt did not necessary need to be included, or do you feel I .. read more
Craig2591

6 Years Ago

Don't change the chapter length on my account. That's just my own personal preference.
Such a powerful subject! Your writing is so magnificently constructed. 


This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 6 Years Ago


SpeedyHobbit Armstrong

6 Years Ago

Thanks for the review! I truly appreciate the encouragement (apologies for the late reply)
A. Amos

6 Years Ago

no problem at all and you're most welcome
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Dom
Great continuation of Folco and etc, certainly a worthy story. I hope to one day see it on my bookshelves

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 6 Years Ago


SpeedyHobbit Armstrong

6 Years Ago

Thanks so much! These are very encouraging words! Please let me know if you ever notice a part that.. read more
I really liked this and hope it gets published. I can't wait to see what else happens. xo Winter

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 6 Years Ago


SpeedyHobbit Armstrong

6 Years Ago

Thanks! Please let me know if you find any space for improvement in subsequent chapters , lose the b.. read more

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Added on November 15, 2013
Last Updated on October 5, 2014
Tags: prince, friend, missing, fear, fantasy, fiction, trouble, question, attack, assault, quest, search, investigation, crime, royal, noble, nobility, lord, paladin, hobbit, potter, wife, worry, duty, job


Author

SpeedyHobbit Armstrong
SpeedyHobbit Armstrong

Long Island, NY



About
My name is Cher Armstrong, also known as Speedy Hobbit. I'm a USATF athlete in racewalking for the Raleigh Walkers club team. I just graduated from Queens College in Queens borough in New York Ci.. more..

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