The Prince of the Rose
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy

The Royal Palace at Aithen, the High City, near the end of the Second Age

The palace was mostly deserted, although pages could be seen scurrying about bringing messages back and forth from the War Council. All unnecessary personnel had been evacuated weeks before, including the royal family. The city itself was preparing for the end; shops were closed, taverns boarded up, citizens packed and fleeing for the forest many leagues to the east. The end of a great civilization was at hand and its ruler had not seen the signs.

His Royal Majesty, King Sinthar Asha Whiterune, sat on the Rose Throne brooding over the most recent events. He was not the first Tarran King to do so, but, he might very well be the last. His trusted friend and general of his armies dead, on a faraway battlefield, at the hands of their enemies; his betrothed missing for more than a week and presumed dead; and worse, his advisors counseling him to stop all hostilities and negotiate the withdrawal, and ultimately the surrender, of his armies. He thought back and tried to see where his advisors had failed him, never thinking for a moment that it was he that had erred. In his arrogance, he did not account for such a possibility.

"Well, no reason to cry over spilt milk," he thought.

He needed a new plan, a way to turn the tide in his favor. He needed to put down this rebellion once and for all. He had the thought to confront the 'Three' and demand their assistance. If they chose not to, then he had his sword to help persuade them.

King Sinthar was an un-imposing man, two inches shy of six feet tall, with a medium build, shoulder-length fine white hair, blue eyes, and pale skin. His most imposing feature was the bastard sword belted to his hip, and even that was singularly plain and unadorned. However, power and energy fairly pulsed from the sword, and when drawn the sword's howl could freeze the blood pumping through your veins. For it was no mere sword, no, it was named and sentient. It was a Runesword and its name was Deathbringer. A name that caused even the most stouthearted to flinch and give pause; a name that even the 'Three' must heed.

His musings were interrupted by a servant who entered the throne room and quietly cleared his throat. "Your Majesty?"

"Yes, what is it?" he asked with an air of indifference.

"Your Majesty, Princess Rannath has been sighted at the city's gates and is on her way to the palace," the servant, the King's personal manservant, replied.

The news brought his head up in a hurry and lifted his spirits. "Are you sure? When?"

"Yes, Your Majesty," the servant responded. "Just this moment, she should be arriving at the palace as we speak. I have left instructions to have her escorted here. Is there anything else?"

"No, nothing else," King Sinthar replied, sweeping his hand back and forth.

The servant bowed and backed out of the King's sight before turning and leaving the throne room. Moments later there was a knock and the doors opened and his betrothed entered the throne room. Sinthar stood as she stepped before him and curtseyed.

"Where have you been?" he asked. "I had almost given up hope of your return."

"Good day to you too," she replied chuckling. "I was detained, but I am here now."

She was Princess Rannath Bellingrath, daughter to the King of the Thangdaemons and betrothed to Sinthar Whiterune. At 5'8" she was tall for her race. Dark brown hair fell to the small of her back. Steel gray eyes set evenly apart, smoldered with a deep fire. Large breasts set up high on her chest, covered by a forest green bustier and black riding breaches. A slim rapier belted to her left hip.

She stepped forward and wrapped Sinthar in a hug and kissed him, driving all other thoughts from his head. He brought his arms up and encircled her as well. They held the hug and kissed for several moments until finally she loosened her grip and leaned back.

"I guess you did miss me," she chuckled and kissed the tip of his nose before releasing him. "My father sends his regards and continued support in your endeavors. He is worried, however, worried that perhaps you are no longer listening to your war advisors. He is worried that you are listening to Deathbringer, who may not have your best interests in mind."

"Your father worries too much like an old maid," Sinthar replied disgustedly. "If he does not have the stomach for warfare then let him withdraw."

"Nevertheless, I myself am worried that you follow that sword to your own folly," she smiled grimly. "I am selfish; I want you around for a long time. Do not let that sword come between us."

"What would you have me do?" Sinthar asked, with a tinge of exasperation in his voice. "Would you have me return it to its stone?"

At the pronouncement of that question the scabbard at Sinthar's hip vibrated and glowed.

"Do not worry old friend," Sinthar placed his hand on the sword's hilt. "I have no intention of doing that."

"Perhaps. Would that be so bad?" Rannath asked gently. "Sinthar, what do your advisors say? What does Deathbringer counsel? Compare the two. Are they far apart? If so, then you have to decide which is the more reasonable solution."

"She plans to betray you, My Lord," Deathbringer announced. "Be wary."

"Do not think that I do not know what it whispers in your ear," Rannath said, looking at Sinthar intently. "It is paranoid and it is infecting you with the same paranoia. That paranoia is the cause of the death and destruction around us. Is it not the 'Hand of Death'?"

"Rannath, you cannot begin to understand," Sinthar sighed, shaking his head. "Deathbringer is the great equalizer, as Death is the great equalizer. It does nothing more than reflect the desires of its wielder. You make it sound as if it wants to bring about the destruction of all. To what gain, Rannath? It would be without the very beings it needs to stay relevant. If everyone is dead, who wields it?"

"Who indeed, Sinthar," Rannath replied. "Are you so sure the sword requires or even desires a wielder? To what end was the sword crafted? Even the 'Three' are vague on that, as if they do not know. I say it is dangerous to rely solely on the sword's counsel; that is all."

"Your advice is duly noted," Sinthar replied. "Now, tell me all that you have been doing..."

The discussion concerning Deathbringer continued off and on for a fortnight, ending with the King's decision, mostly based on Rannath's insistence that the sword was working towards its own end, to place Deathbringer back in its stone in the Hall of Kings. Deathbringer tried and failed to sway his lord's decision, but in the end the sword did not protest when stoned. Without the sword's immense power, and sentient foresight, Sinthar was more easily betrayed and killed. Betrayed, as foretold by Deathbringer, by his betrothed, Princess Rannath. After his death the Tarran War Council negotiated the withdraw of forces and 'The Three that are One', led by Melvina, banished the remainder of the Tarran race back to their home realm. Not only banished but also decreed that no male would ascend to the throne. Over the centuries that decree would affect every aspect of Tarran society until eventually males would be treated no better than chattel.

At the time of the banishment, the Rose Throne, the symbol of the might of the Tarran rulers, was missing, which was no mean feat, since the throne was cut from a single pinkish-red star of ruby crystal. The throne was three feet high at the seat and another six feet high to the top of the large wing back. The seat was three feet across with large arms on either side. The back was carved in the shape of overlapping petals and had two large roses carved into the upper corners of the wings. The arms were carved in the shape of petals that curled under in a scroll like design. The entire throne was carved with running vines of wild roses. The throne generated its own internal light, highlighting the asterism, or star quality, within the large back.

Sinthar knew that both the Thangdaemons and the Elfen, coveted the throne, and he did not want it to fall into the wrong hands. The throne was a great source of power and symbolism of the might of the Whiterune dynasty. More importantly the throne could unite the powers of the Rose Swords, and could then be used to subjugate the next age. Before his untimely death, he had put a plan in motion that would protect the throne if his people were defeated. With the throne missing, his people, though vanquished would be safe. One day, he mused, a ruler would find the throne and unite the swords and restore the dynasty to its former glory.

The 'Three that are One' could not have predicted that the imposed covenant would so drastically change the plight of Tarran males that no male progeny would be born to the royal line. Sinthar could not know that it would take a millennium before the hand of fate would undo that decree and a Prince of the Rose would take up the quest of the Rose Throne.

This is that story...

The home of House de la Rose, Aithen, the middle of the third age

Aaron and Tanith returned to the house in Aithen after the battle with Lord Devlin. They spent an uneventful night and were up at the usual crack of dawn, exercising and practicing and finally gathering together for breakfast. Now that all immediate dangers were removed, it was time to make the transition to Malkur and return Lady Laura to her home and her father.

The rest of the morning was spent packing and arranging the things that they were going to take with them and the things they were going to ship. Aaron sent for a merchant to have everything packed for shipment on the next wagon to Malkur. It was after lunch when the women declared that they were done and had set aside the things that they would come back for once they settled on a house in Malkur. Aaron gathered everyone together and led them outside where a carriage was waiting and asked Tanith to transport them to the roadway, about a mile outside of Malkur.

They arrived on the side of the road and Aaron had the ladies step inside the carriage and get comfortable, while he and Rac-Nur climbed up into the driver's seat. Aaron took the reins and shook them, starting the carriage forward towards Malkur. When they arrived they were briefly stopped at the front gates until the guards saw who was inside. They quickly passed them through and sent a runner to the ducal palace to inform the Duke that his daughter had returned.

Aaron navigated the streets of Malkur and the carriage was passed through the upper city gates unchallenged and finally arrived at the ducal palace, where an honor guard awaited the return of the Duke's daughter.

Aaron jumped down from the driver's seat and opened the door for Lady Laura and entourage, who stepped out and were immediately flanked by the waiting guardsmen. She looked up and saw her father standing at the palace doors and hurried, very lady-like however, toward him.

Duke Benjamin held his arms out wide and Lady Laura stepped into the hug, wrapping her hands around him as well.

"Father, it is so good to be home," she mumbled, her head buried in his chest. "I have missed you so much. I have so much to tell you."

"Colleen is dead," Laura began weeping. "So are Rene and Michele."

Aaron, Tanith, Rac-Nur, and Anastasia waited off to one side as they watched the happy reunion. Presently Laura disengaged herself from her father, discreetly wiped her eyes, and introduced her friends.

"Father, I would like to introduce Lady Anastasia Whiterune, Marquise de la Rose and her protector, Master Rac-Nur," Laura gestured toward Laura.

"Marquise, I am honored to meet you," Duke Benjamin bowed and then nodded to Rac-Nur. "Master Rac-Nur, an honor to finally meet a Dark Elf."

"No, Your Grace, the honor is mine," Lady Anastasia curtsied.

"Father, I would next like to introduce Lady Tanith," Laura gestured toward Tanith.

"Lady Tanith, a pleasure," Duke Benjamin bowed. Tanith nodded in return.

"Father, this is Master Aaron Whiterune," Laura reached over and held Aaron's arm. "His titles and accomplishments are too numerous to list. Above all else, he is my protector and the reason I am home, safe and sound."

"Master Whiterune, I am in your eternal debt," Duke Benjamin bowed. "I can never repay you, but ask for anything and it is yours."

"That is not necessary, Your Grace," Aaron replied. "But, I thank you for the offer."

"Come, where are my manners?" Duke Benjamin laughed. "I am sure you have had a long journey, I will have rooms prepared and a feast for this evening."

Duke Benjamin led them into the palace and to the visitor's quarters where he was met by his chamberlain, who had left earlier to have rooms prepared.

"I am not sure of the sleeping arrangements, so I have made four rooms available," Chamberlain Coultier proclaimed.

"We will only need three," Aaron replied. "Lady Tanith and I are bond-mates and will share a room. Lady Anastasia and Master Rac-Nur will each require a room."

"Very good, Milord," Chamberlain Coultier replied and showed them their rooms. "Will these meet your requirements? If so, I will have your things sent down."

"Yes, these will do quite nicely," Aaron replied. "Rac-Nur, you take this first room, Anastasia in the middle and Tanith and I will take the last room."

"Please, take your time to freshen up," Duke Benjamin implored them. "Perhaps afterwards Master Whiterune, you could join me for refreshments in my study? I will leave a page at your disposal."

"That will be fine," Aaron replied. "Perhaps a half hour or so?"

"Dinner will be served at the sixth hour of the afternoon," Chamberlain Coultier informed them. "It will be an intimate affair and informal."

Duke Benjamin bid them good afternoon and left with Lady Laura. Chamberlain Coultier stayed to make sure they were comfortable and then left them as well. Aaron checked each of the rooms and declared them safe to enter before showing Anastasia to her room. He then followed Tanith into their room. They did not need extra time to clean up since they had not actually travelled by carriage the whole way. Before the group had left Aithen Aaron had asked Laura to keep certain information pertaining to him, and Tanith as well, to herself. He did not want his capabilities, or those of Tanith, broadcasted throughout the entire duchy. Laura assured him that she would not even tell her father. Aaron had to trust her on that one, but he held out hope that she would keep her promise.

After waiting for about a half an hour, Aaron had the page escort him to the Duke's study. The page knocked on the door and opened it on the command to enter. Duke Benjamin was sitting behind his desk and rose when Aaron entered. He offered Aaron something to drink and Aaron accepted a glass of Gnomish. They settled down in their chairs and discussed many things. Aaron talked about the loss of Lady Colleen and the two bodyguards. He discussed Laura's maturity over the past few weeks, to which the Duke agreed that his daughter seemed more serious. Aaron lightly touched on Laura's marriage status and the budding relationship with Gunter, Duke of Creton. Duke Benjamin snorted with disgust, but Aaron came to the young Duke's defense. They discussed the political upheaval in Aithen, Realto, and the Merchants' Guild, and what a merger between Malkur and Creton would mean to the political and economic landscape. Benjamin, as he asked Aaron to call him, finally agreed to allow a courtship to proceed, if and only if, his daughter was in agreement.

Aaron and Benjamin also discussed the move of House de la Rose to Malkur and what the House would be specializing in. Benjamin assured Aaron that he would help Anastasia in any way he could, to which Aaron gave his appreciation. Finally it was time to get ready for dinner and Benjamin got up and escorted Aaron to the door of the study where a page was waiting to escort him back to his room. Aaron was pleased, all in all, with the conversation and the company and thanked Benjamin for his hospitality.

Dinner was a pleasant affair, with good food and good conversation. After dinner, Aaron and Tanith, with Anastasia and Rac-Nur, retired for the evening with Aaron remarking that this would be the first evening where he did not have to go somewhere in the night, or had to get up early for some cataclysmic battle. Tanith chuckled at that, but agreed that it would be nice to not have to be up at the crack of dawn. Anastasia did remind him that they would be house hunting the next day, and would have to check in with the Merchant's Guild as well.

The Black Hand had informants in every major city in the Five Realms and when they put the word out that they wanted information on a group that used a rose, specifically a black rose, as a calling card, the informants began investigating.

The informants found that there were several instances where a rose, either red or black, had been used in connection to an assassination and that information was being relayed back to the Black Hand. Someone else found out that there was an investigation into the use of roses.

Master Drexil was just finishing his morning paperwork when one of his thieves informed him that someone was looking for information about the use of a rose as a calling card. Master Drexil knew of only one person that used a rose and more specifically a black rose. What had his liege done now? He quickly put two of his best information gatherers on the hunt back up the trail to find out who initiated the investigation. He also sent a quick dispatch to Malkur to inform Lord Aaron of the investigation.

Aaron was awake at dawn, even though he had no reason to be, but old habits die hard. He tried to slip out of bed without waking Tanith, when she quietly spoke.

"Could not sleep in either, huh?" Tanith yawned, fully awake.

"No, and apparently neither could you," Aaron chuckled. "What say we get up, have breakfast and check in with the local guild, before starting the rest of our errands?"

"Sounds like a plan to me," Tanith replied, swinging her legs out from under the quilt and sitting up on her side of the bed."

Aaron appreciated the view and remarked as much to her, to which she replied that they could jump back in bed for a little longer, which they did.

They finally got up and after washing off the sweat of their morning exertions, went in search of breakfast. They did not need to go far since a page was stationed right outside the door and led them to a dining room, where Anastasia and Rac-Nur were already present, with Laura and Duke Benjamin, eating and talking.

Duke Benjamin was interested in their itinerary for the day and after learning that they planned on seeing the Merchant Guildmaster and home shopping, offered the services of his chamberlain, to which Aaron agreed, with many thanks. Laura invited herself along, only because Anastasia had not invited her officially, thinking that Laura was coming all along.

The Duke provided escorts for the excursion and two new bodyguards for Laura, and after introductions were made, the large party was off. Aaron privately spoke with Tanith about slipping away to check in with the Thieves' Guild once they were at the Merchants' Guild, to which she agreed, since the halls were relatively close. The group made an impressive party, what with a squad of ducal guardsmen, the ducal heir, and the ducal chamberlain in the lead.

As previously mentioned, the Duchy of Malkur was divided into two sections, each section on a different level. The lower level housed all the shops, merchants, inns, guildhalls, and military barracks, as well as housing the working class residents, while the upper level housed the wealthier residents, temples, and of course the ducal palace. Their destination then, was the lower level and the hall of the Merchants' Guild.

Aaron was duly impressed with the lavishness of the Merchant's Guild hall. He thought Aithen's was pretentious, but it did not hold a candle to Malkur's. Marble statues and ivory columns lined the floor, while fresco murals dominated the ceiling throughout the main hall. Alabaster vases sitting on gold pedestals decorated with gold filigree flanked alcoves used for private meetings and social gatherings. Chamberlain Coultier easily navigated through the show of wealth and stopped at an ornately decorated desk.

"Is Master Bartholomew in?" he asked the secretary.

"Yes, Chamberlain Coultier, I will tell him you are waiting." The secretary got up and knocked on the door behind her. She opened the door and spoke briefly with the occupant and then held the door for the group of people.

Master Bart as he asked to be called welcomed them into his office. The chamberlain made the introductions and Master Bart was anxious to help, having already been briefed by Master Gerard in Aithen. He also had several properties that he wanted to show Lady Anastasia and company. Aaron begged a few moments to run an errand in the neighborhood with Tanith. The rest of the group would stay with Master Bart and go over the requirements for the House's transition to Malkur.

There is more of this chapter...
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