False King is a story regarding the origins of the Fall of Rovaltinny and how a certain Rovalian came to be as a consequence of Rovalian politics, a prequel to Eclipse of the Knights, and part of The Great Northern Saga.
Hired to act as a double for the Rovalian King, Ashangul, a struggling low class citizen, becomes ensnared into the malicious world of Rovalian politics, as the royal court struggles to balance progress and tradition in an age-old strict society of intolerance, loyalty and xenophobia.
Chapter One: The Kings Edit
Ashangul grinned at his own reflection in the mirror, eyeing the jewels embedded into his ornate crown. Today was the day when his dreams came to fruition. It may have taken him 32 years to achieve his final goal, but he had done it. He was a king.
His slim frame, recovering from what now seemed like a distant bout of malnutrition, fit perfectly into the leather cuirass plated with a layer of steel much thicker than usual to protect him almost any projectile that would ever be flung in his direction. Cautiously, he unsheathed the dagger held at his side, carefully examining the elegant temper line of the blade, examining the ingrained patterns of cedar trees. “Beautiful” he muttered, transfixed by his own equipment.
“Ashangul, have you completed your preparations? We need to begin the procession soon.” An authoritative, but calm, voice commanded him. Ashangul responded to his addressing, nodding in an elated fashion in the direction of the opened doorway, occupied by a single towering winged nobleman, clad in a lightweight steel chest piece embedded with the Tolip insignia, a purple cape draped around his shoulders and flowing down to the back of his knees. “I can't wait to do this! It's literally a dream come true!”
The being before him snorted knowingly at his enthusiasm, ruffling the wings on his back as he did so. “Ah, I remember the last person here was praying for hours.” He paused to choose his next words wisely, but thought better of it and decided not to continue. “Anyway, it is time you come along. Obviously remain vigilant while out there - we don't want our ‘king’ dying if we can help it.”
“Of course.” Ashangul replied tersely with confidence. “Now, let me meet my people!”
“That's the spirit.” The nobleman smirked.
“So then, are you certain that they are going to attack?” One figure inquired.
“Yes, of course they are.” Came the reply. “This is a perfect opportunity for those racist scum to strike out and attack you, they want to replace you with someone who represents more of the purist principles of Rovaltinny - not some radical reformer. Besides, they probably see my existence as some sort of threat to the royal bloodline, and my agents have reported more than one instance of people commenting derogatory remarks about House Tolip, in particular ‘that batty, degenerate abomination…’”
“Arcturus.” The other stopped him in his tracks. “You know these things aren't true. You are and always will be my brother. Don't listen to what the people say - they will take time to change.”
“Time you say?” Arcturus spat in disgust, his spittle dropping from the balcony of the royal estate mansion to the ground several metres below. “Give them a few thousand years more of isolation and I bet you I’d still be stoned to death on the streets were it not for this crest.” He glanced over his shoulder at the cloak he wore, seething as he reckoned the events that would unfold if he lost his protection.
“Well, people’s perceptions take a long time to change. I do think we have made some sort of an impact, and hopefully whoever is elected to succeed me will continue this societal progress.” The other answered serenely, comforting his companion.
Arcturus scoffed, clearly angered. “Made some sort of impact? Hideti, you've been ruler for, what seven years? You were elected to prove provide the ruling houses with a fresh, young, progressive ruler who would help Rovaltinny reform society - that's why I supported you with my every word. It's been seven years now, and not much has changed. I will still be abused on the streets because of what I look like, and you will never be able to mention that child for fear of-”
Triggered by Arcturus’ final sentence, Hideti glared at his companion, eyes unblinking. “And if I make to many radical changes, everyone will be angered. It takes time to adapt people's views; sudden changes are rarely beneficial. Besides, don't ever mention my daughter again.”
Arcturus sighed in frustration “You're king, you don't need to be afraid of these things any more.”
“You'd be surprised; everything I do is met with opposition from many sides.” Hideti reflected glumly.
“Then destroy your opponents! You are the king, with absolute power! Why should you let these greedy nobles or foolish plebeians push you around?” Arcturus retorted. Hideti could sense the anger and desperation accumulating within his friend.
“I’m sorry Arcturus, but that just isn't possible.” The king spoke with an almost apologetic tone. “The best we can do is make small changes, and one day, Rovaltinny will become a truly tolerant society.”
“One day…” Arcturus mused.
In a comforting gesture, Hideti wrapped his left arm around his companion. “I promise something will change.”
“I hope so…” As Arcturus pondered upon it, a large figure emerged from behind, stepping onto the balcony, accompanied by an air of haughty disdain and mockery and sporting his aristocratic purple cape.
“Greetings my king” He bowed humbly, before glancing at Arcturus “Hi batwing” he smirked. Arcturus bared his teeth and turned away on disgust, making a rude gesture behind him.
The newcomer mocked sympathy “Oh come on Arcturus, it's not like that's a new nickname for you…”
“Tewodrus, that's enough. That was an unnecessary remark.” King Hideti interrupted sternly, apprehending his subordinate nobleman.
Tewodrus grinned snuggly, before seeing that his king was not amused, and cut to the reason of his arrival. “Your majesty, your double is ready to depart with the escort to go to the procession. We have soldiers monitoring the entire stretch of the road for any threats-”
“And my agents are also undercover ready to eliminate any threats that are spotted.” Arcturus pushed ahead with his own contribution before Tewodrus could rant on about the military force he had managed to organise, before understating his own importance.
“Very well, let us proceed. Make sure to inform Lady Bahilaw about the security measures.” Hideti affirmed.
“Yes, that has been taken care of your majesty.” Arcturus confirmed, eliciting a smile from his king. “We are ready.”
Chapter Two: The Twilight Fortress Edit
Fascinated, Ashangul, managing to fly perfectly normally in spite of his heavy armour, observed the surface of the rugged mountains below, illuminated by the setting autumn sun and isolating great lakes of freshwater which gleamed in the approaching dusk. In just a few minutes, they would descend upon the city of Duiost, the military nexus of Rovaltinny. The streets were crawling with Rovalians who had been indoctrinated from a young age with undying loyalty to their state, a value shared by almost everyone.
“But not everyone” thought Tewodrus, as he watched his enamoured ‘king’ observe the landscape below. It was obvious why that was the case though: for the past 200 years, all but two of the rulers of Rovaltinny had been conservative in their policies; Hideti was one of the exceptions. However, with the other king, the progressive changes had been met with applause - the new technologies and knowledge the Great Knight expedition had brought with them had made most of their culture desirable to everyone. Yet, the king did not integrate everything about the Great Knights - the underlying Rovalian sentiments about loyalty and nationalism prevented one of the most important cultural aspects of the Great Knights: the fact that it was not just one culture, but a culture made of many cultures. It seemed that Rovalians would never be able to understand such a concept. But with Hideti, it was different. Yes, there had been another group of explorers arriving at their doorstep, but they by no means a large group, and they were in need of sanctuary more than anything. No, the mentality behind his policies boiled down to a single reason: Arcturus the Eclipsor.
The only reason Arcturus was part of Rovalian society at all, let alone a part of the nobility, was simply because Hideti’s father had found the child, alone in a forest, crying for help. “Djadros Tolip was a foolish man” he reflected. Arcturus was not one of them; he was not a Rovalian by any means, and he certainly never would be considered one. Why a nobleman chose to adopt such a child into his family, an abomination of nature, a corrupted species, the failed experiment of a long-gone ancient Empire, was completely lost to him.
Now Arcturus was stirring up political turmoil in the court on a daily basis, constantly hounding people about his “rights” and “equality”, something which most saw as pure selfishness. He was the only Eclipsor within the Kingdom, and completely protected by the shield of royalty, Hideti himself. Yes, it was true that Hideti had been elected to bring about change to the stagnant Rovalian society, but Arcturus exerted far too much influence over the king, being his spymaster, something which seemed far too akin to nepotism than was acceptable. The only reason these accusations never went forward was because no one could truly bring themselves to regard Arcturus as the King’s brother. His demands for “equality” and “rights” seemed to crave more than equality, almost as if he wanted special treatment just for being different. “Pathetic hypocrite” Tewodrus sneered bitterly.
“My Lord, we are approaching Duiost.” His lieutenant informed him, gesticulating with his longbow to the vast plateau upon which the fortress was situated. The flat green plains of farmland that dominated the region were rudely interrupted by a bulging protrusion of rock punching out of the plain like an emerging fist, an ugly authoritarian scar on the otherwise plain landscape.
“Understood lieutenant.” He responded in comprehension. “So, Ashangul, be on the lookout for absolutely any danger” he turned to the King’s double, grinning encouragingly.
Ashangul nodded “Why would anyone endanger me, their King?”
“You'd be surprised.” Tewodrus muttered, maintaining his positive smile. “Let's us hope not. That way, Arcturus would finally be exposed as a fool.”
The squadrons of Rovalian soldiers gradually began their descent into the city, gliding gently towards the dominating fortress, and their arrival was met with cheers of applause as the city’s citizens came out to greet their monarch, screaming for attention. A smile almost came to Tewodrus’ mouth as he saw the adoring public vying for Ashangul's attention, but then he remembered the purpose of the mission, and how his lack of concentration could lead to the death of another innocent Rovalian.
Meroe grinned maliciously with anticipation as she observed the twilight sky, a poison-tipped arrow loaded within her bow, ready to fire. She scanned the windows of the main street, looking for her comrades amongst the mostly-empty buildings elevated above the bustling greeting parade of the Wingidons. “Six....seven...eight, nine...where is Bear Killer?” She pondered as she counted the inconspicuous figures loitering in rooms overlooking the street with ease, recognising all of their faces from an elevated position, all with bows slung over their backs, a common sight in Duiost.
Their leader, codenamed Bear Killer, was a secretive being, one who constantly kept his entire body sheathed so that not a single part would come into contact with the air - including his wings and his eyes, which were masked with some sort of impenetrable filter eyelets that from time to time made Meroe doubt whether he had any eyes at all. Of course, the vicious leader of their group would want to keep his identity hidden, having vehemently supported the overthrow of the ‘feeble’ King Hideti, and Bear Killer had concealed his to the point where she could not even safely claim him to be male,including the distorted voice, which could have masked any accent. She couldn't even say that he was necessarily a Wingidon, given that his wings could have equally been there or not.
"He could even be watching us as we complete his final mission…” Meroe searched through the area, visualising each person wearing a flowing combination of full-blown leather clothing and a death mask, smiling to herself as she considered the trivial nature of her pursuit. Bear Killer had made it clear he would not be able to witness the event, but considered this the perfect opportunity to stir up some trouble. Once they had caused some damage to the king and his entourage, they would all head to Roval to receive their payment, and then melt back into the folds of common Rovalian society.
Considering it personally, she had no moral qualms with killing the king - he was, after all, responsible for its diminishing and the reason for her inability to join the standing army, something which had driven her down the path of an assassin instead. Her skills were...good, but that made her one of the best in Rovaltinny given the few assassins that had ever existed, and their reputation for botching up many previous jobs, jobs that she would have considered easy. For Meroe, killing her fellow sentient beings was simply fun.
Erupting cheers of joy signalled the King’s arrival, prompting Meroe to raise her bow. The King was in sight, glistening in armour and waving to his people below, and in full range now. She tugged back the string of her recurve bow while predicting the path, drawing in a breath.
She fired. The arrow drove itself directly into the King’s chest plate, but he did not spiral to the ground immediately as anticipated. Rather, he recovered quickly from the shock of the impact, dodging another arrow from a fellow assassin. “They were prepared.” Meroe muttered to herself with concern, until she heard a cry of pain from a nearby building, followed by another outburst of pain. Two of her compatriots had been attacked. They had been compromised.
Meroe cursed, slinging her bow and escaping from the vicinity of the window. She had to find some way of escape - if they had been keeping such a vigilant watch to catch a few snipers who hadn't even fired an arrow yet, she would certainly have been spotted. Adrenaline flooding through her veins, she sprinted down the staircase, aiming to reach and hide in a cupboard below...
“Argh!” The air was punched out of her as a soldier's fist came out to greet her in the stomach, causing her to collapse back onto the stairs, clutching her abdomen in pain while gasping for air.
“Well look who we have here.” The soldier smirked, before preparing his armoured fist for another blunt hit.
Chapter Three: The Throne Room Edit
“All nine assassins have been captured and are currently in custody your majesty.” Tewodrus reported to Hideti, who, with a confusing mixture of relief and concern, nodded in reply.
“So, Arcturus’ reports were correct.” Hideti reflected, staring blankly out the window of his throne room, directing his speech to no one in particular.
“Of course they were Hideti! What else could they have been? False?” His spymaster exclaimed jokingly, while sneering at Tewodrus, having now claimed the mantle of superiority and significance once more.
“The rivalry between the two of them will never end, will it?” Hideti rolled over the notion in his head. It would be almost impossible to get them to cooperate. If he locked both of them up in a chamber, Hideti reassured himself that they would have killed each other in the most brutal fashion possible, disregarding all their titles and honour.
Aiming to pause any more of Arcturus’ boastful comments, Hideti requested “Where is the double?”
Relieved that Arcturus’ moment of importance at the centre of the throne room had been removed, Tewodrus bowed and turned to leave.
Within a minute, Tewodrus had returned, gesturing respectfully in the direction of the king as Ashangul entered. The Duiost Throne Room, although not the largest to exist in the Kingdom, was certainly a large chamber with a respectable number of ornaments, and Ashangul’s face was once again etched in awe, causing Hideti to flush very slightly as he both amused and frustrated himself by thinking of their different experiences of life.
“Ah, Ashangul Hasetenya-Nigisti, it is good to see you.” Hideti spoke in greeting, extending his arm.
Attempting to imitate the King’s accent and posture as much as possible, Ashangul puffed out his chest. “It is good to see you too your majesty” He grinned in respectful mimicry.
Intrigued by Ashangul's peculiar behaviour, Hideti made a bizarre facial expression, one imitated immediately by Ashangul.
“Tewodrus, how did you find him?” The king inquired, eager to know how such an eccentric double had been discovered.
Satisfied with the shift of focus, Tewodrus began “I just found him off the streets your majesty. His appearance was rather similar to yours, with quite a thin frame, which could easily be accounted for by putting on more armour. Given his obscurity within society and his willingness to pretend to be you, he seemed like the perfect candidate.”
“I see” Hideti nodded in comprehension.
Arcturus added sarcastically “Yes, and his death would have had no effect on Rovalian society, given how irrelevant he is.”
“I’ll let you know Arcturus that, unlike you, I actually care for the people of this nation, and that includes Ashangul,” Tewodrus retorted, eager to defend his reputation.
“Yes, unless they happen to have bat-like wings instead,” Arcturus glared at Tewodrus accusingly, who returned with a blank stare, saying nothing.
“Alright, that's enough. Arcturus, interrogate the prisoners and extract all the information you can. Tewodrus will go with you.” Hideti commanded.
The two nobles stared at each other with fierce intent for a few seconds, before obeying the King’s orders and storming off, eager to outpace the other.
“The room seems quite empty without their egos flooding it, don't you think?” A voice chuckled to his right, which was met by a few sniggers from across the room by those who had relaxed as the two most prolific nobles had left. Lady Bahilaw grinned with satisfaction as she stood up from her seat, ready to spill her own agenda onto the table top, not the pointless bickering of nobles the king was struggling to control.
Hideti nodded casually in reply, not wanting to firmly put down either of them “Yes, it will take some time before they manage to cooperate fully. I might as we start now.” He glanced at the Lady of Duiost, a middle-aged woman with a short stature that nevertheless implied strength and resilience, something reinforced by the armour plating much of her body.
“Well, may I first advise that we,” She paused for effect “perhaps, increased military spending?” Bahilaw ended her sentence with a casual, but menacing smirk.
“Not this again,” Hideti rolled his eyes in frustration. Nationalists like Bahilaw continually emphasised the importance of the military, but to their King, an increase in military spending was unnecessary. They were under no immediate threats, and even if they were, they had the Great Knights, a mighty external power, to aid them in times of crisis. Not only that, but the military formed more of a conservative block to his reforms, and its expansion would undermine him further. “Lady Bahilaw, we have already discussed this - an expanded military is not needed. There are no threats to our nation whatsoever!”
“I take it you haven't heard of the build-up of Eclipsor forces to the south?” Bahilaw intrigued, attempting to press her point.
“Arcturus has intelligence outposts across all of our borders. There is no evidence to point to an invasion of Eclipsors, and I certainly hope your bias against Arcturus isn't the base of your accusations. The Eclipsors have no reason to attack us - at most they can summon small armed bands of raiders against us, but never a full army. They lack the ability to rally such an army that could match even one detachment of our border forces.” Hideti returned, dismissing her probe.
“Your majesty,” Bahilaw addressed him courteously, before changing her tone drastically, “have you ever considered that perhaps you are the one biased in his favour? He is, after all, your “brother” is he not, and as a consequence, would you not be inclined to trust every scrap of information he brings you?”
Hideti narrowed his eyes at his subordinate noble as she dared to even dive into the subject even further. “What reason would my brother have to lie to me? Besides all of his information has proved to be accurate in the past and I believe him to be a reliable source of information.”
“And if all of your nobles of the houses who have served the Rovalian throne for hundreds of years witness something with their own eyes that your one brother claims is false, who would you believe?”
“I would investigate all of their sources myself, Lady Bahilaw,” Hideti spoke firmly, glaring at the rebellious noblewoman.
“Oh okay then, that's perfectly fine then.” Lady Bahilaw spoke with an air of smugness. “I was only acting in the interests of the Kingdom to prevent something that could new seen as nepotism,” she asserted.
“Baseless accusation gets one nowhere.” He glared back at her. Sensing the possibility of another challenge arising, he rapidly followed up “This session of court shall be dismissed.”
Sighs of both relief and disappointment could audibly heard from amongst the court as they gradually shuffled along their benches and exiting, with representatives from all of the houses splitting off once they had filtered through the doorway.
“Bloody hell, every single discussion with her always leads to Arcturus, just like with Lord Hasilas” Hideti frowned. Bahilaw was just one of many nobles who had constantly tried to undermine him, some in more subtle ways than others, in particular by bringing up Arcturus. “Just another day of dealing with conservatives,” he sighed.
“My lady, when do you think he will give in to your demands?” A young woman questioned Bahilaw, strutting alongside her with a helmet tucked neatly under her arm as the two of them entered the private quarters of the Duiost Palace.
Lady Bahilaw smirked as she replied quietly to her companion, “Captain, our king is weak. He doesn't know what's good for him, good for all of us even - instead he promotes pacifism, ‘equality’ and thinks little of our prestigious military, preferring for such an ancient organisation to wither away.”
She stared intently at the captain “Something I know you don't want, Yechari.”
“Then what can we do?” Captain Yechari inquired, a hint of desperation in her voice. For generations, the Adanyi Clan to which she belonged had been intertwined with the army in every conceivable aspect. Killing in the name of the Kingdom of Rovaltinny had been their passion for hundreds of years.
“Did I really mentor you? My pupils would always know what to do in those situation.” Bahilaw mocked her lightly, feigning surprise.
On the contrary, Yechari’s reply was one of firm seriousness “But surely something can be done before taking such drastic action. After all, it has been hundreds of years since a king’s fate was decided by blood and iron, and that was against an oppressor. How can we obtain the support of all those cowards when their lives are no longer at stake? Surely there is no need to spill more blood than necessary.”
Taking inventory of her chain of thought, Bahilaw paused before continuing.
“King Hideti’s weakness is also something we can use to our advantage - most of his other viewpoints have become rather malleable in order to appease the nobles, and I’m sure we can convince them of the King’s faults and appeal to the overwhelming sense of nationalism inherent in every true Rovalian. But yes, force will be our last resort, although there will not be much pure Rovalian blood wasted I’m sure.”
“You’ll make a speech then,” Yechari grinned, knowing her tutor’s ways all too well.
“That's more like it,” the other beamed, placing an arm on her former student’s shoulder. “Increased military spending will happen, I assure you - it is the only force keeping out those savages - and I will campaign to maintain and uphold my nation’s prestige, honour and integrity until I die.”