‘Lieutenant, we must discuss Hanan’, there was a tremor in the king’s voice.
Fergus knew that this wasn’t going to be a casual conversation. No talk of Hanan was ever casual, an island of such infamy that many folk dared not mention it, unless absolutely necessary. Evidently the king had found it necessary to call one of his commander’s to his personal chambers and to disturb an otherwise enchanted evening. Hanan, the volcanic island, was a haven for pirates and criminals, where decadence and corruption reigned. Fergus had heard it said that in the slums of Koros, capital of Hanan and seat of the Triumvirate, one could acquire any item, whether through purchase or pilfering. Koros was the final destination for many of the world’s greatest treasures, cities had been sacked, societies wiped out for their wonders. The Gold Tree of the Phlanos Empire had been transplanted to the palace grounds of Koros, a grim ghost of itself. The once iridescent foliage rotten and withered, a decaying monument to a grim conquest and an elegy to one of the first empires.
To rule over a land of such depravity and hedonism necessitated a strong standing army, martial law and a severe judicial system kept the population just within the check of agreed Hananian norms. However, many a murder would occur without so much of a batting of a legionnaires eyelid and pub closing time would often see the streets of Kauston painted thick with claret. Fergus had heard that the mantra of the legion was “no riots, no resistance”, they tended not to concern themselves with policing such trivial disputes as murders and gang skirmishes. The island had been ruled by pirate captains, self styled mayors, gang bosses and guilds for centuries until the three minks took control of the city. In the course of a day and a night every captain, kingpin, mayor or objector was slain by the guild of the Four Shadows. The event was known as the Reckoning and it’s anniversary is celebrated raucously in Koros, from fear and respect.
Three young mink emerged from the Reckoning, noteworthy for the parts that they played. Wernin, who had been merely an initiate in the guild, was solely credited with slaying Hajal-Keld of the Green Tongues and his honour guard, thus securing the coal quarter of Koros.
Kjarno Riktooth, who had been unknown prior to the Reckoning made his name at the battle for Kauston barracks. The barracks had historically been held by the Southern Military junta, a kind of unofficial army who controlled and manipulated all trade in the south of Hanan. Kjarno, a guildbrother of no fixed distinction, defied his chapter master’s planned subterfuge. The young mink slit his master’s throat in the night and urged his guild into a direct assault on the garrison. Wave after wave of brothers died against the gates and high walls, yet Kjarno led every assault, urging his comrades on, crossbow bolts thudding deep into his broad shoulders as he roared. Eventually the walls fell, Kjarno had sacrificed hundreds of his brothers in open assault, yet this was not how his part was remembered. His brothers were victorious, the militia were killed or inducted and all who survived the day would tell of a powerful mink with a huge battleaxe standing knee deep in blood and roaring for the cause as he suffered wound after wound and the dead piled up at his feet. A movement needs a banner and he became it.
Granos, for his part, was no berserker, no slaughterer. He was a diplomat and a shrewd politician. He consulted with the self elected governors and mayors of Koros, Kauston and Naur Province. Some were happy to pledge their support to the Four Shadows, once they learnt of the guild’s growing power, others took more persuading. Granos learnt that everybody has a price, whether that price is five hundred coins or their infant child’s life. He became known as Granos The Treacherous and then, several abductions and assassinations later, as Granos The Valiant.
The Slaughterer, The Berserker and The Valiant. Fergus shuddered at the thought of them. Yet here he was, with his king. Lennox played with the hem of his tunic idly, it had been some time since King Braus had spoken and his commanding officer had been standing silently, staring into middle distance. This was a surprisingly frequent occurrence so Lennox didn’t mind.
“Peace time is, as always, desperately short and psychologically demanding. It is now two years since the battle of Black Creek”
Fergus needn’t be reminded of the battle of Black Creek, no creature on Brausinia did. The last attack on Brausinia, two years ago, had been driven back at a bitter cost. The Hananian minks had sent waves upon waves of marten warriors, almost three thousand of them. Fergus had lost a brother at Black Creek, Lennox had lost an eye. Such ferocious and regular assaults were common practice for the armies of Hanan so it made little sense that there had been no news of marten troops for two years. Such bitter peace was both welcome and unnerving for Braus. His fur was showing unseasonal signs of whiting, his teeth seemed to be yellower and more prominent by the week; the king was tiring.