Author’s notes – This is another Chapter in Marches that I am not particuarly proud of. Luckily, it isn’t from Mirabelle’s perspective, so it was going to get cut. When it was originally written, I did not have a good grip on who Sarus was, and as the writing went on his character shifted to something a bit different. He is still a wyvern, but his reputation became less of a violent one. The story isn’t necessary to the plot, and I don’t think it added that much. I tried later on to bring this plot back, but am not happy with how that turned out.
That said, I think Mirabelle learning about Sarus before meeting him is very important. This will be rewritten, but more of her finding out about him from the people of the village and the legends, rather than an actual story about him. I think that’ll make the introduction of Sarus more impactful in the following chapters. There isn’t much else to say about this chapter though. Pieces will survive, but it will be better to switch the perspective and change the style of learning about her future husband.
This chapter won’t be in the next draft, but as always I thought it might be a waste to just have it forgotten. I hope you enjoy.
Sarus Astier was not the usually young noble in many ways. His father began training him early to help take on court life, and before he was fifteen winters, he was already appearing in court. He had a knack for the art, it seemed. He was not unlike his father in that regard. He had a knack for finding weak points in others. However, he was hot-headed and tended to run his mouth before he had secured his win.
This gave him a bit of a reputation as having quite the bark, but he was often derided as not having much of a bite to his words. He was not a large and imposing man, and despite having raised quite a few objections and argued his points in court with his father, but he was rarely taken seriously. Still, he had become a very common feature of the courts in Vouivre. While at first, he was often alongside his father, he became more and more often seen on his own. His quick objections and unflinching and often open rebukes and arguments earned him a nickname quickly. He was soon known as le Chien, the Hound.
This seemed to bother him at first, and after a few years of court life, it did reach a boiling point. In one instance, another noble of the province goaded the young man into a confrontation. His constant pressing of an issue caused Sarus to lash out – despite the objections of his father. The act was particularly egregious as he had been in court with the Grand Duc de Vouivre, the highest-ranking noble of the province, and a member of the royal family by marriage. He was swiftly humiliated, in such a way that it took his father quite a bit of political capital to even get him safely out of the meeting.
Since then, Sarus had been relegated to local affairs, but he was not content with such things. He studied the man that had humiliated him. As his future wife arrived in Milae, he discovered the man was going to be in court again with the Grand Duc, and Sarus would not miss such an opportunity. And so, he traveled to the city of Iacessa, deep in the mountains of his homeland, with a single goal in mind. It was not a political move, nor something that would gain him any true benefit, but the Hound was on the hunt. The name would stick after this display.
Sarus reached the city of Iacessa early in the morning, just as the sun rose above the horizon. He wore a new mask at this time, a motif of the hound. He traveled with only two attendants, leaving his guards and servants back at his home. The message was clear when the first noblemen spotted him walking the dew-covered streets. He was here for himself.
Shortly after the first-morning meal, the young noble had arrived at the hold of the Comte de Iacessa, where the nobles of the region were meeting. The hold was only accessible by a large carven staircase laid into the mountainside. A large palatial manor was built on a small plateau, which is where the nobles met today. The guards held any who approached at the base of those great stairs. Sarus paused a few paces before reaching that final path. He did not come in under the banner of his house but declared himself as confidently as if he had a thousand men behind him.
“I am Lord Sarus Astier de Nid du Vouivre, known as le Chien by the men of the court. I am a servant of Grand Duc Marcomir Alaric de Nid du Vouivre, and of her Majesty.” He called out to the guards. “I am here to speak with Marquis Teias Valia de Precis.” He stood firm in his location, settling in for a long while. “I will await him here.”
Of course, the guards sent the message, but returned with the simple message of, “His honor Marquis Valia respects your bravery, but asks that you return home.”
To which, Sarus would bark a reply. “The Marquis must face me. By rights, I deserve to meet and speak with him. Should he not, I will remain here throughout the noble’s meet.”
The guards again took the message and returned with yet another reply. “Our master says, then you will wait. It will be a lesson in patience.”
“Please send the following message. So it shall be.” Sarus adjusted, “But I believe the lesson will be for others.”
“You have a lot to learn still, boy.” Was the response the guards brought after that.
“Sir, I humbly request that you refer to me in my official parlance.” The guards were growing tired of this as they jogged back up the stairs to give yet another message to the Marquis.
“Don’t be so quick to judge, little lord, after all, you are but a boy.”
“A boy who understands how to properly address his peers, marquis,” Sarus responded.
Every response, Sarus sent the guards to reply to him. Time and time again, they were bound to interrupt the noble meet to give the message to the Marquis. The other nobles would chuckle as the Marquis was flustered with each and worked to come back with a witty response. Still, it clearly wore on his demeanor. As other nobles argued points on defense and trade, he was distracted and every more and more frustrated. Finally, the Marquis had enough and asked to be excused.
This caused the Grand Duc to become annoyed with the situation himself. He agreed, but due to the situation, he told the Marquis he wanted to see him handle the young noble. So, the nobles took a recess and moved to the stairs.
“I see your patience reached its tipping point, Marquis.” Sarus barked from the bottom of the stairs. “Perhaps a refresher is in order?”
“Listen here, boy. You’ve had enough fun. You are interfering with royal business.” The Marquis shouted back at him.
“I merely meant to respond in a timely fashion to each of your requests. Our last meeting was unfortunate, and I’d like to be sure that we stay on the right foot moving forward.” Sarus smiled, though no one could see it. “Did the guardsmen disturb the meeting unduly?”
“Yes, of course, they did. At your order.”
“I made no such order. Guard’s, did I ask you to interrupt?” The young noble shouted. They shook their heads. He shook his head and motioned towards them.
“Implicit orders are still orders.”
“Yes, you know that very well, Marquis.”
There was a pause as the Marquis seemed a bit bothered by that response.
“While I have you here, I’d like to speak with you at your earliest convenience, Marquis. I will be in town if you would like.” Sarus raised his hands with a quiet bow.
The Marquis said nothing.
“About what?” Another noble asked, “Trying to get your honor back, little hound?”
Sarus shook his head, “No, my lord. I freely admit my mistakes. One of my villagers trades with a small hamlet known as Rianoll. It is in the Marquis’ territory.”
The Marquis’ eyes widened at the name, but he did not respond. Unfortunately, the response did not go without notice by some of the others.
The Grand Duc waved to a nearby attendant and said something, quietly with a displeased scowl crossing his lips.
“I have never heard of such a place.” The noble responded with a little smirk, “Why come all this way for a merchant?”
“In a town as small as Milae, every trade connection matters,” Sarus spoke softly. “I see the Marquis cannot speak about it now. Nothing will change if he takes his time. I can wait for answers. Rianoll isn’t going anywhere.”
“Surely the hound doesn’t come all this way without a purpose. You don’t have a banner with you.” One of the nobles seemed to realize. “You smelled blood, didn’t you? What is it about Rianoll that brings you here.”
“I wouldn’t dare. It is the Marquis’ territory.”
“There is nothing to tell. It is a small hamlet, not even on the maps or on any roads.” The Marquis finally spoke. “I can barely remember it is in my holds. What does it trade? I doubt you need timber.”
“They crafted the most wonderful glass. There was a man there of great talent. My man would bring fresh sands for his art.” Sarus responded.
The Marquis steadied himself and nodded, “Ah yes. I seem to remember some glass trinkets being traded in the towns. Some were sent as tax collection, I believe.”
“Kind of you to accept,” One of the nobles said as he adjusted out of the way of the returning attendant, who handed off a piece of parchment and a pen dripping ink to the Grand Duc, who wrote something down and returned the document down.
“Of course, they hardly grew enough food to support themselves.” The Marquis said softly, brushing a hand along his neck.
Sarus smiled a bit wider. Some of the nobles too had picked up on that particular word. The Grand Duc shook his head and handed the paperback.
“Sarus,” The Duc shouted. “Whatever you needed, wouldn’t have been easier to go to the village?”
“Yes, your grace. Except there were no maps I could find with adequate directions.” He responded. “So, I had the merchant take me.”
The Marquis stumbled back for a moment, his façade shifting quickly as he realized what was about to happen. He quickly interrupted. “Fine, Sarus, I’ll speak to you – let’s not waste any more of the meet’s time.”
“So, you don’t want them to know the village was a smoldering ruin?” Sarus barked up at him. “That the people tried to claw their way out of the shrine you boarded up?”
The Marquis stood as still as stone.
“Or maybe that it was over a stupid mistake. What exactly happened? Did she rebuff your advances? Maybe the glassmaker messed up a project?”
“None of this is true. This is just a thinly veiled attempt to damage my honor because I humiliated you. Admit it, boy.”
“No. This is because men under your house banner burned women and children alive.” Sarus shouted up at him. “I’ll admit, I stumbled on it because I wanted to find your dark little secret. I assumed you would have some hidden thing. Some pathetic perversion I could press you on that would make you snap, and everyone could see the petulant coward that was left when you broke.” He gave a nod. “I thought my father’s tactics would be more than enough. And let’s face it, you would have given me anything to have your little secret stay secret wouldn’t you?”
The nobles stepped away from the man, as he looked around for some semblance of support.
“I did keep one thing from my father’s teaching, though.” Sarus stepped forward. “I know the real secret. I know why you burned those people alive – why their screams haunt your every night’s sleep.” The hound pulled a scroll from his cloak and held it. He took a long breath. “And while these men are disgusted with your actions. You know what is in here – written for the Grand Duc to bring down your punishment.”
“You have nothing. This is all a farce.” The Marquis shouted, throwing his arms down quickly. “You besmirch my honor and try to bring ruin to my name. You accuse me of heresy and stand there like some savior. I will cut you down where you stand and bring an end to this charade.”
“I accept,” Sarus spoke simply, offering the parchment to one of his. “Swords – and if you want me silenced, I suggest you choose now as the time.”
“Then now it shall be.” The Marquis turned towards a guard. “Your sword.”
As the guard unhooked and handed over a sword, another noble spoke up to the Grand Duc, begging. “Stop them. There is no point to this bloodshed.”
“There is a point.” The Grand Duc said quickly. “Our people are bound by honor, and one of these men speaks the truth, and that will only be revealed as one of them lays bloodied on the ground. The duel has been called. We cannot stop it. To the death, with swords. As was spoken by the duelists.”
“Yes, but if…”
The nobles stopped speaking as the Grand Duc just raised a hand, “Just witness.”
The Marquis stepped down the stairs and drew the guardsman’s blade, tossing aside the scabbard as Sarus’ bodyguard offered over his own drawn blade to his master. The young noble just stood calmly waiting though, the broadsword held lightly in his left hand.
The Marquis reached the bottom of the stairs and shook his head. He raised the blade and gripped to the hilt tight with both hands. Sarus took a breath but didn’t seem to enter any sort of duelist’s stance. For a moment they just stared at one another before the Marquis rushed at the young noble. The young man was quick, though, and he ducked out of the way of the first swing. He brought the sword up to block the Marquis’ next strike, and then it was over. The hound’s blade slid along the Marquis’, and a finely timed twist pierced the long sword blade deep into his shoulder.
The Marquis screamed and dropped his blade as the arm went limp, and blood began to seep through his clothes and down the arm. He fell to his knees, and he shook his head. “How did you…?”
“You think everyone is lower than you. You attack from a high point, and when you miss, you strike low.” Sarus answered. “Your debates mirror your swordsmanship. Just like your pathetic little plots.”
“You don’t have anything.”
“Actually,” Sarus smiled, “You are right. I don’t.” He wanted to laugh for a moment and then shook his head. “You see, I sent my evidence ahead of me, but not just to the Grand Duc.” He whispered. “You’ve made more enemies than you know.”
“Sarus, the duel was to the death.” The Grand Duc bellowed. “Finish him.”
“With all due respect, your grace, I cannot do that,” Sarus replied, slashing his blade through the air to fling the blood from the tip. “While it brings me no great pleasure to let him live, I am to be married in a few months.”
“And why would that stop you?” The Grand Duc barked, an impressive and powerful voice for such a shriveled old man.
“I am marrying a daughter of Lune. While the Seas and Moon have no strict rules about honorable killings, they do have a ritual peace during the lunar year leading up to a union.” Sarus spoke with a slight bow. “I ask that you let him live, and face the pain brought to him by his action in a hamlet who believed him their protector.”
The Grand Duc was visibly displeased with that answer and shook his head wide. “Fine. I know who it is you marry, and I’d rather not order you to do something that may upset her father.” He waved at a guard, “Take the marquis, throw him in the dungeons. We’ll let him die there or string him up like the common bandit he is.” The guards snapped to the job given them, and the Grand Duc turned to the nobles. “We have a meet to finish. Back to the work.” The old man turned and gave a wave of his hand. He paused for a moment and turned back to Sarus. “Astier, do not let yourself forget where your loyalties lie. I’ll deal with Precis, but you press my patience and I will deal with you as well. Do you understand.”
“I will remember, your grace.” Sarus ended with a quiet bow.
Then the Marquis was dragged away, and Sarus gathered his things and left it at that. There was a change from the name le Chien after this event. He was no longer about his bark, but about the hunt and from then on he’d be known as Le Limier, the bloodhound. Now, it spoke to his hunt and the man’s unyielding drive to finish whatever had been started. His humiliation due to his quick actions was rapidly forgotten, and the rumors spread even before he was able to return home from that expedition. Most importantly, there was a distinction between the man and his father now.
For a long time, he was just a shadow of his father – and everyone expected him to work in much the same way. He had turned his father’s talent into something else though. Valamir had learned how to find weaknesses and exploit them. He had inherited that, for sure, but with much more of his mother’s aggressive stance. His father was an opportunist, but Sarus was a hunter – and once the hound smelled blood, he would seek it until he had the source squarely in his sights.