The king of Nusalle, Olleton wandered the back-lanes of the capital’s poorer quarter. Only his stout jaw showed beneath his hood on the moonless eve. As long as he wore the threadbare garb of a vagabond, he would draw no attention from any thief. The shadows parted at the end of the street, where lamps burned at the entrance to an inn. He halted, wondering where next to look for his friend.
“Seek me, do you, Olleton?”
A figure separated from the shadows beneath a potter’s shop awning on the other side of the street. He wore the mail hauberk and surcoat of a Blue River Guardsman. Unlike other members of the king’s elite, his horned helmet wasn’t polished, but scuffed and dented. His surcoat of deepest-blue with the orange crest of the snarling dog was threadbare and torn. All exposed areas of his flesh were covered in neatly wrapped bandages like the mummies of Northern Kundra. As he walked, his free hand brushed the service dagger on his belt. A long-hafted, double-edged axe hovered above the cobbled stones, held securely in the other.
“Forgotten One,” said Olleton, pulling back his hood.
“You take a risk coming here.”
“You are the most dangerous thing on these streets.”
“It is good to see you. Have you come out of friendship?” Olleton cast his eyes to the ground. “I see.”
“Nusalle needs her king.”
“Nusalle has a king.”
“Her true king.”
The Forgotten One sighed gently. His haft creaked with the tightening of his grip, an action Olleton had come to understand as suppressed anger.
“Perhaps I gave my crown to the wrong man. All call you ‘Olleton the wise.”’ He grunted contemptuously. “If you cannot control unrest among your people…”
“The Vindavians have risen again.”
“Aye.” The Forgotten One averted his gaze. “Nusalle has prospered under my rule, stomachs are filled, businesses thrive, and until now we have lived in peace, but we both know I am no fighter, nor a commander of armies.”
The Forgotten One trudged away. Olleton trotted ahead of him and barred his way.
“You have placed yourself in exile to defend against a few criminals in the shadows. Here is your chance to do much greater good.”
“You do not understand the nature of a warrior,” the Forgotten One whispered regretfully. “Skill, speed, strength – all are just smoke on the wind. The only way a man wins over his enemy, is if his will is stronger. I barely have the resolve to defend the denizens of the poorer quarter, let alone rise each day. I will assuredly fall to Vindavian steel. That hardly makes me the redeemer of Nusalle.”
He pushed past Olleton, only to have him shuffle ahead again.
“You lack the will because your wife and child are dead.”
“You did not understand their worth while they were with you.”
The Forgotten One’s bandaged hand darted to Olleton’s clothing and lifted him effortlessly. His feet dangled above the street, supported by the Forgotten One’s bunched fist.
“I will suffer no man to speak to me thus, not even you, Olleton.”
Olleton held the service dagger in front of him then pressed it against his own throat. The Forgotten One’s eyes widened. He snapped his head down to the empty scabbard on his belt, then back again.
“If I die, you will have to take the throne.”
“Do you think I care?” said the Forgotten One plaintively.
“Of course you do. I can feel you tremble. Your life had value while your family lived.”
“Because I loved them,” the Forgotten One quaked.
“It was more than that; you lived your life for others. That is what gave you meaning. You fear for me now. Whether you admit it or not, my queen, my sister, and I are the only three people you love on this earth. What are we worth to you?” The Forgotten One held his silence. “Among the Nusalleans, are hundreds, possibly thousands of Olletons. There are many women, just like Iersta and my sister that you have never met – will you fight for them? Will you lead my army?” he said softly.
The Forgotten One gave a solemn nod and lowered Olleton to his feet, accepting his dagger from Olleton’s hand.
“Tell me,” he said as they trudged back for the palace together, “would you really have ended your life?”
“Men call me “Olleton the Wise,” not ‘Olleton the Buffoon.”’
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