Return of the Reaper

Thousands of years ago, the Reaper, Demon Lord and ruler of all Creation, was betrayed and his empire turned to dust. Now he has returned, and is looking for revenge on the one who betrayed him.


29. Chapter twenty nine

 The nordheim were divided. Everyone felt glad that their sovereign had returned to the world of the living, but few were truly convinced that making peace with the fae was the right course to follow.


 There were too many debts to collect. Too many fathers had buried their sons, and too many husbands and wives had received the painful news that their loved once had been sent screaming back to the Great Wheel.


 But the voices that favored peace also held powerful reasons: Hadn’t Vachel been sent by Those who Sleep in the Earth to warn them? Had the nordheim truly forgotten to honor their ancestors?


 All this and more was discussed in their kingdom, while fast couriers spread the news. They carried express orders by the Doomed King countering the authority of the regent council and commanding the army to cease any hostility towards the fae, unless it was in self defense. Should they decide to send an embassy, it should be allowed to pass and treated with the utmost courtesy. Finally, the commanders in charge of every province should send a representative to the capital, for a great counsel was to be celebrated.


 Silence reigned in the throne room, but it wouldn’t be so for long. The king was old, and his eyes weren’t as keen as they used to be, but he could clearly see the rift in the commanders of the army. On one side were the older generals, those who were young recruits when he had come back the last time, and the few who could still remember being led by him. They had followed his battle plans and heard his advice, and he knew they would obey him again, even if it meant taking Hell by siege.


 But there was also the other faction to take into account. They were the younger generation, despite some of them having served for more than a century. They had served the council all their lives, and they saw the Doomed King as a fable to be told around the fire to keep the troops’ morale up. Just as the older officers, they had lost many loved ones in the war. But, unlike them, they didn’t trust in the king’s instinct, nor did they feel a need to follow his orders. After all, weren’t them who had managed the affairs of the war while the king slept?


 Seeing the sovereign stood silent, quiet whispers were heard. First they were just murmurs at half voice, but they soon increased in volume, and the first discussions started. A few minutes later, the two sides the king had seen were clearly shown.


 “It’s unacceptable!” Claimed Bandalor, a brilliant strategist and, despite he had been served for barely forty years, a serious contestant for generalship. “The fae had harassed us since before anyone can remember. They have slaughtered countless of our soldiers, burnt our cities and tortured our women and children. Must we forget all of it and embrace their killers as our brothers just because a walking corpse orders us to do so?”


 At his words, silence fell as a heavy mantle over the hall. The members of each side were wary of the others, watching for any sign of violence. It was finally Moira who took upon herself the duty of answering Bandalor’s claim. The atmosphere became even heavier. She was the oldest general on the nordheim armies: almost two hundred and fifty years old, from which almost two hundred and forty had been given heart and soul to the war against the fae. Those who had served under her claimed she had once managed to kill a Nightmare Beast by herself, and no one who knew her dared to dismiss that possibility lightly. Her voice was barely a whisper, but it could clearly be heard by everyone in the room.


 “You are still young, Bandalor, and incredibly stupid.” Her voice was emotionless, but her face had turned a deep crimson, and her knuckles were white by the strength with which she held her axe. “You’re lucky that some of us still remember the orders of the one you called a walking corpse, for, had he not banned the spilling of blood from this sacred hall, your empty head would have rolled the minute you finished speaking. If you or anyone from the bunch of rebellious bastards that think like you dares to utter a single word against His Majesty, I will kick them out of this room, pluck their eyes out and feed them to the pigs, it that clear?” Her glance went slowly through the hall, daring anyone to speak out. None dared to hold her gaze, so she visibly relaxed “You speak of loss as if you knew what it means, but you don’t. You cry because the fae have murdered your fathers and sons, sisters and wives. But how many fae you think have lost their loved ones by our hands? This war has gone on by far too long. A menace greater than the fae grows in the south, and we must be ready to face it.”


 Bandalor was about to reply, but the distinct sound of creaking bones stopped him. At unison, everyone in the hall turned to listen to the words of the Doomed King.


 “You doubt me, young man, and that is very good.” A tired smile showed in his face. “I have slept and woken up many, many times, and my spirit is now weary and tired.” He stood up trembling, dismissing the helping hands of two young soldiers, and slowly walked to where the brilliant aspiring general was standing. “Perhaps it is now time for me to come back to the Great Wheel, just as I forced Padraigh, the old king, whom only I can remember now. Perhaps it is now the time for a warrior to take his weapon and raise it in defiance, giving this old sack of bones his deserved rest.” His eyes were moist with tears when he said “Yes, if you challenge me, maybe you will prevail and take my place. But before you do that, remember that others before you have tried and failed… And something tells me that you won’t be the last.”


 The whispers began anew, but Moira interrupted them before the discussion could flare again. “What will it be, Bandalor? Will you defy the king in a duel to death, or will you obey his orders without hesitation? We nordheim can’t fight among ourselves, unless we want the fae or the demons to come and destroy us.”


 Tense moments passed, the hall was still as a tomb, until finally lowered his head and, in a clear voice, said “I disagree with your judgment, Doomed King, but I don’t wish to create a schism among our race. Even if there is peace with the fae, there shall be war with the demons.” There was a great turmoil when he unsheathed his sword, but it died down as he put it at the feet of the sovereign. “And when that war comes, I will gladly give my life for the nordheim and their rightful king.”


 Those present cheered loudly: for good or ill, they were once again united under one leader. The shouts of joy only ceased when a young messenger ran into the hall and, after kowtowing to the king, delivered a letter to him. Silence fell for the third time over the hall as the arthritic fingers opened the envelope and his failing eyes examined its contents. When he finished reading, the king said “It seems you made the right choice, Bandalor.” The relief was clear in his voice. “A fae delegation has crossed our borders and its expected to get here in three days.”

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