September 24, 013
There it stood, rising into the mists that billowed off of the sea that licked the southern flanks of Albinor, his own Karameikos included. For his coming the castle was swept, cleaned and washed so that no stains of blood remained on the pavement since its capture by Karameikos knights less than a month ago. In the dungeons of the castle, in his own oft-used cells, lies King Lord Hector Aasgard himself. The Duke of Death. The king of Entropia and instigator of the war that Karameikos has fought for decades. Finally, after much training and readying of his troops, both Luln Capitol and Fort Doom fell within days of each other. And for the first time in many years, Duke Stefan Karameikos III stepped through the outer gates of Fort Doom.
Muffled by the fog that rolled in off the coast, Stefan's booted feet were muffled on the flagstones of the courtyard. Ranks of men flitted about doing various duties - questioning Entropian knights captured in battle, leading those through with questioning completed to the dungeons below to fill the nearly hundred ten by ten foot cells and await sentencing for treason against Karameikos. Fortunately, being on the coast of the sea and buffeted by breezes of salt and water, the smells of battle have been wafted away and the castle actually seems to smile down upon him.
Stefan's always loved this castle. A beautiful structure with troop barracks, paved courtyard, a gorgeous council hall on the top floor where he once met with advisors and men - including Hector himself - to discuss affairs of state and country. Multiple common rooms, libraries, a regal dining halle and matted troop training room. Also on the top floor was his new chambers - replete with flowering plants, couches, bookshelves with a collection of fine tomes. Nothing like his previous quarters in the simple dwelling of Krakatos.
He wasn't overly fond of leaving Krakatos. While its ground floor chambers he once lived in was surely a risk on his life, as was shown years ago when his favorite spy was pierced by an arrow and killed only a few feet from where he sat by an assassin, living in Krakatos afforded him to be with his people. His knights trained just beyond the wall under the sun on the plains beside the keep and travelers would constantly pour in and out through the building's doors, allowing him to sit down on occasion with them and just talk. Be part of his citizen's lives. But all of that aside, he did love this castle of Fort Doom. It really was a grand structure.
Entering the doors into the first hallway that leads into the depths of Doom, servants were still sweeping and cleaning the floors and walls. They didn't look Stefan in the eye - the guilt of doing the same for a man like Hector weighs heavy on their souls. Blame was not to be placed here, however. He smiled as he passed. Few looked at the Duke of Karameikos as he passed, but those that did are lifted a little lighter - there was no admonishment on his countenance.
He first took the stairs to the second upper floor, filled with bedrooms for servants, guards and guests. Here he can entertain and board his visitors with more aplomb in separate chambers where they can rest and relax. He walked down the bustling hallway to the next stairwell that lead up to the third and top floor. He passed through the royal common room, where some servants were cleaning tables and a single bartender served a handful of off duty officers ale at the counter that ran along the southern wall. They nod as he passed. He used the keys that Fort Doom's seneschal handed him, staring at them momentarily to wonder how long ago this ring of keys was in the hands of the Duke of Death. Then, on the east side of the common room, he unlocked a door and entered his new abode.
A large fountain with plants spilled crystal clear water lazily down fronds of green into a pool in the center of the room. Two couches lined the south wall with small tables before them. On the desk against the north wall, beside book cases lined with maps and scrolls and records of Entropia, he found a treaty signed by Hector Aasgard and Zeckar Ierendi of the island nation to the south. It was this country, Ierendi, out of which grew Fort Doom as a keep on the shores to watch the waterways between. Zeckar's bent is on conquest, and Fort Doom was built to guard against this. How ironic that it would be turned into a haven for this evil king, and its stores, up until recently, used to serve them as a legion of Ierendi stayed here for some time.
His bed was in the northeast corner of the room, closed off by bookcases filled with tomes by such bards as Gilden, Bukanin and Dilnavil on one side and fitted as large wardrobes and armoires on the other that faces the bed. The bed itself was soft and downy and around it more bright and dark green vines struggled for majestic purchase on the floor and walls and even posters of the large bed.
On the bed was a dressing gown, recently layed there, obviously by servants of the quarters who tend to the rooms of the castle. To the collar was pinned a piece of parchment, thin as wax paper, but folded neatly and held fast to the gown by a steel tailor's needle. Stefan removed his chain mail and hung it in the wardrobe, the loose links emitting small clinking sounds that melded pleasantly with the flowing fountain waters that rolled in streams around the bed and between the crawling plants. Not long after he stood only in his undergarments, his boots and cloak placed neatly besides his armor. He pulled the needle from the parchment and opened the folded parchment. The note might have been written by the ward who left the gown for him and prepared his new room, or it might have been written by another servant, but the message inscribed on it was obviously from all those that worked at Fort Doom. "We're sorry."
The long fingers of morning crept across the room through the sealed shutters in the sitting area of Stefan's chambers. There were no windows or apertures by the bed, for security reasons, but it wasn't the light that woke the Duke from his slumber. It was the shuffling of feet across the matted throw rug beyond the confines of the wardrobes that surrounded and fended off view from the other portions of the chamber. Stefan awoke and stretched, and shuffled out where a castle servant was just leaving after having placed some bread, honey and other breakfast items on the small round table to his right. He sat down to breakfast, followed this by dressing in a tunic and breeches from the wardrobes and exited his personal chambers into the royal common room.
There were men, some still in Karameikos knight uniforms, having their breakfast similar to his own. One of the men approached, an officer of his guard, and said, "Hector is below ground, m'lord."
"I will go see him now. Guide me, I don't know this castle's layout as yet officer."
And off they went, navigated the stone walls of Fort Doom. Stefan was lead into the dungeon floor that lie beneath the main level of Doom and was met by the jailors, two of them, who had taken control. All the other people who Hector placed here, for various charges - some legitimate and some created on the previous king's whim - were released days before. Stefan wondered if that was wise - after all, there was good chance that some of those released really did commit crimes. But many haven't, and in light of injustice Stefan had declared that all the cell dwellers be released. There were hundreds of them when Fort Doom was taken by Karameikos forces. It would simply have taken weeks to go through the jailor paperwork to determine who was and was not guilty. Those that might have been guilty of a crime would find the area overrun with good knights - and if the opportunity to commit crime again arose and occurred, they'd simply be reacquainted with the jails. Many of those truly guilty were driven to such by the oppression of Hector Aasgard and Entropia as a whole anyway. The jail cells now held new captives, though it was sparsely filled now compared to the hundreds that were released to the light of day before his arrival. Those there now were fighters for Entropia - mostly knights of that now-deceased country.
The jailors bowed to their Duke then led him down a corridor that lead left from the stairwell's landing. Fitted with old stone that bore cracks of age, some mossy and unkempt, with dampness and underground chilliness bleeding through that crept about the floor. They made a turn and headed down another similarly fitted, but longer, corridor which opened into a rusty smelling old room. The jailors waited at the entrance and Stefan entered to see three large racks and tables in the middle of the floor, more jail cells with steel fitted doors in the north, iron maidens and other implements of torture on the west wall and along the south and east walls ran spots for men to be shackled to the stone. Across from him, diagonally and against the eastern wall, was Hector Aasgard.
"Ah, cousin!" Hector spat the words with defiance still. "Sure took 'ye long 'nuff to arrive." Besides occasional release so Hector could eat, he had been chained to this wall in this same spot since Karameikos won Fort Doom on the fifth of this month, September. Stefan gazed about the room. The racks, thumbscrews, iron maidens - they were old instruments, but all were kept oiled and in excellent shape. Obviously, this torture chamber had been used often enough in the time of Entropia. "I always enjoyed it here. I came here often enough, it seems fitting we should meet for the first time in years in my favorite of chambers, yes, cousin?" Hector continued. Stefan did not reply. "It's so lonely since you took command. I used to have this chamber stocked full with fun!" He laughed garishly.
"You've changed, Hector."
"I've grown, cousin!" Aasgard challenged. "I commanded brighter forces than you ever will!" He spat again, to the cold stone floor.
"You've changed." Stefan said simply. He turned so that Hector could not see the teardrop, but a sniffle of remorse escaped.
"Ah yes, you've always been the weak one, aye?" Hector spoke slowly. "Now get me off this wall cousin. Family do not chain family."
Stefan looked toward the doorway, where the two jailors stood. He nodded and one entered with a sheaf of papers, ink well, quill and other writing implements. He walked purposefully across the floor and arranged them on the table to the north, where the thumbscrews were. After rifling a bit, he found the sheet of parchment he was looking for and spread it out before him, opened the ink well, took hold of the quill pen and looked at his Duke.
"What's this, cousin? I thought we'd at least sign my pardon in more style than this, like the council halle at least? Don't forget - I can't write while shackled!" His raucous laughter filled the room and another fresh tear escaped Stefan's right eye and ran down his cheek. He decided not to care and looked at Hector while the jailor prepared to write.
Stefan spoke slowly, so that the jailor could write every word down without fail. "Lord Hector Aasgard," he began, "for crimes against your lord and liege, the citizens of Karameikos, and all the people of this realm myself included "
"Yes, yes, get on with it. And unchain my hands so I may sign this worthless piece of paper and get on out of here!" Spit.
"You are hereby sentenced to death by hanging."
"What's this?" Hector's stony surface cracked for an instant. "I am family you fool!"
"On the morning of morrow, September the twenty sixth, in the Albinorian Calendar year of thirteen."
"You can't do this! I'm of the blood of Karameikos! I'm royal!"
"Until then you will be given a final meal tonight, but remain in the confines of this chamber, which you yourself have admitted a glorious liking to."
"You will be escorted to the courtyard under guard tomorrow, where your execution by hanging will be publicly displayed."
Stefan looked to the guard, who had finished writing down the statement of the Duke. "That is all," he said, and turned to leave.
"Cousin Stefan! I'm blood!" That was the last of Hector's appeals as Stefan left the room and walked down the corridor, though his voice continued to echo down the hall. He didn't hear much beyond the word "blood." His mind fixated on that word. "Blood." And he wondered how often the floors of the chamber he just left had to be swabbed of it.
He really thought he'd cry more than he did.