The Serpent Council

From Charred Marble

Muad'Dib entered the council chamber. The four Fedaykin, Sainic'Tor, Tobias'Vih, Auros'Dib and Siala'Mhir flanked him. The word had been sent out to the members of the Serpent Council, but they had not all arrived yet. Muad'Dib saw Beregond, the commander of the Silver Lances and nodded to him. His junior, Captain David sat to his right. Several of the governors who sat on the council were already seated.

Muad'Dib turned to his Fedaykin, the elite of the Fremen tribe, skilled warriors who could easily defeat even the soldiery of Ahm-Shere. He said quietly "Join the guards, be ready." The four warriors nodded and left the chamber, falling into position with the many guards outside.

Muad'Dib took his seat, the one to his left empty as it was Erkenbrand's seat.

The round room was well-lit. The private study off the library was decorated with a marble floor, with four marble pillars supporting a roof. Adorned with the names and portraits of the previous Lord-Generals, the walls were painted white. In the centre of the chamber were a small handful of chairs. These were occupied mostly, although the largest of the chairs was empty.

Valek entered the chamber to silence. Commander Beregond looked suspiciously at the man as he sat in Erkenbrand's seat.

"If I recall correctly, it is Erkenbrand Demiscius who is Lord-General and chair of this Council. Not you, Valek."

"It is but a chair," came Valek's snide reply. "I have no wish to attend this meeting, nor have I any intention of staying. For appearance's sake, however, I shall remain here for the time-being"

Seeing that everyone was present, as well as Valek, Muad'Dib rose slowly from his seat. He tried to ignore the disrespect of Valek to sit in his brother's seat, keeping his jaw firmly set. He walked around the table, behind the backs of the Serpent Council, two pieces of paper clutched tightly in his hand.

Finally Muad'Dib spoke "It is good that you have graced us with your presence Valek. Because here" He indicated the letters "I have received word from your brother, Erkenbrand Demiscius, Lord-General of all Ahm-Shere. He has something very important which the council must discuss."

"Then go ahead, Muad'Dib. Although I find it offensive that you are chairing this meeting, I shall respect the Laws of the Council and hear what you have to say."

Muad'Dib looked at Valek with fire in his eyes "I am Vice-Speaker of the Serpent Council. When Lord-General Erkenbrand is not present it is my duty to chair meetings. Some men know the meaning of duty, even if you do not."

The Fremen Chieftain looked around the faces of the men present and spoke loud and clear, the passion of his words carrying out "Ahm-Shere faces dark times, and we must be strong and stand together. Our home has faced darkness before, and weathered it like we weather dust-storms in the desert. But we cannot only look inward to ourselves, when those we call allies are in peril. Erkenbrand sends this message:"

Muad'Dib began to read the letter which Erkenbrand had sent "Muad'Dib

I am Erkenbrand III; thirteenth Lord-General of Ahm-Shere. I sit here in the presence of my Lieutenants, and hereby request that the armies of Verdonsk are immediately gathered. They are to march to Thunderton in the White Realm to form the White Realm's relief force. I am requesting a force of no fewer than 20,000 to come to my aid; almost a fifth of Ahm-Shere's military might.

The White Realm needs our aid, and I intend to aid them so.

Yours Faithfully

Erkenbrand III, Lord-General and Speaker of the Serpent Council"

Muad'Dib looked around the table, as he walked, looking into the eyes of all those seated there. He said "The council must vote, will we go to the aid of the White Realm, or will we abandon them? Faithless or friend, that is your choice? I vote that we hold to our oaths of alliance and send the army." He waited for the others to vote, knowing that Erkenbrand had not only given him power to overturn the decision, but the burden to use that power correctly.

Valek was stunned. He knew Erkenbrand was audacious, but this was ridiculous even for his brother. He spoke: "We should not go to War. This is ridiculous - we have yet to be involved, why waste live in aiding those who would not do the same to us?"

Muad'Dib answered Valek "So you think we should hide? Proclaim that Ahm-Shere should hang its head and crawl under the rocks hoping that those who seek to conquer all lands will simply not notice us? And how do you know that the White Realm would not come to our aid if we asked it? For all Ahm-Shere's enemies, they have never presented a threat we could not fight off alone. But if our people were dying, and we did not have the power to save them, would you be so proud and foolish as not to ask for help?"

Mardat looked around the room. Few were voting, and even fewer were voting to go to war. Bravely, he raised his hand and spoke.

"I believe we should fight for our lands. I believe we should fight for our people. And I believe we should fight for Erkenbrand!"

Muad'Dib nodded and said "Good. Thank you for your vote Mardat. Those who still have to vote, consider carefully. If the White Realm were to fall, we would be surrounded by enemies. And if we do not aid them and the White Realm survives, we would likely lose their alliance, and we would stand alone. Even if you do not think our military could be threatened, think of the drop in trade. Could the people live without that trade?"

He waited to hear the final tally of votes, but it seemed the vote was clearly against him.

Two more arms went up - those of Grimhorn and Aleksi. Mardat smiled as the two men agreed Ahm-Shere should go to war. It was 3-1 for joining the White Realm in its conflict, and Mardat was sure that the sooner the remaining members voted, the sooner they could gather their forces.

Muad'Dib watched as the governor of Remmus made his vote. Vorder shook his head and made a cutting motion with his hand, a sign that he was voting against. Both David and Beregond followed him, making the same decision to vote against going to war.

The vote stood at 3 for, 4 against. The Serpent Council had voted against sending an army to aid the White Realm.

Valek smirked. Mardat looked crestfallen. Erkenbrand would fight for the White Realm with a meagre 500 men from Ahm-Shere at his disposal.

Muad'Dib sighed deeply, a look of great sadness and weariness overshadowing his face. He said "The Serpent Council has voted to deny the Lord-General reinforcements, even unto his death. Then it is with a heavy heart that I must act on the rest of the Lord-General's letter."

He waited a few moments as the murmur died down and he continued "I cannot in good conscience let this decision stand. I had hoped you would see reason and I would not need to envoke the next part of letter, but my hand has been forced. The letter continues:

P.S. - I hereby announce that you, Muad'Dib; Vice-Speaker of the Serpent Council, may override any decision by the Council in favour of your own opinion.

I only stress you see reason and aid our cousins.

Furthermore, I enclose the arrest warrant for my brother, Valek."

Before any others could speak, Muad'Dib said "We will go to war and aid the White Realm. I will not see our allies fall, and I will not sit idly by as Erkenbrand's royal bodyguard returns as a funeral march! I will personally lead twenty thousand of our soldiers to the White Realm." He cleared his throat and said "Now, as to the final matter of the letter, you did hear correctly. Valek, you are under arrest. Guards!"

At this signal eight guards marched into the room, four in the livery of the royal palace of Ahm-Shere, and the four Fedaykin Muad'Dib had brought with him. The guards split into two lines, each line marching around one side of the table to surround Valek. With a mere nod from Muad'Dib they drew their swords with a ring of clear, cold steel. One of the guards seemed to have a knowing smile upon his face, as if he had long expected this.

Muad'Dib read the arrest warrant clearly:"I hereby announce that Valek Murdeian is to be arrested for actions against the crown of Ahm-Shere. Valek Murdeian is believed to be conspiring against the Lord-General, after reaching an agreement to hand over His Royal Highness Erkenbrand III to the Lord of the Defiled Kingdom.

Valek Murdeian shall not face trial - he is to be held in the dungeons of the Royal Palace, and to be hung in the presence of I, The Lord-General.

In his place, my son, Theodore, is to become honourary Royal Speaker of the Serpent Council until I return, where I shall appoint a permanant replacement for Valek Murdeian.

Erkenbrand Demiscius."

Muad'Dib said coldly "The warrant is signed Erkenbrand Demiscius and bears his official seal. There is no getting out of this you traitor."

Valek kept his cool even in explosive situations. The ring of cold steel around him was a threatening sight, but a stern look was returned in the direction of Muad'Dib. A smile; an evil smirk, crept across the face of the Keeper of the Scrolls as his fiersome gaze was met by the fire of Muad'Dib's eyes.

"I have faced much worse odds, Muad'Dib," Valek explained nonchalantly. He slowly raised himself from his seat and took a step forward. The eight guards encompassing him followed suit, keeping their blades pointed towards the Lord-Commander, whose face had turned to thunder. Cheeks as crimson as the dawn and an outrageous spurt of ferocious language bombarded Muad'Dib as Valek drew his sword.

In a single, fluent movement, Valek cut off the arm of one of the guards before diving to the ground. Rolling across the floor, he was now several metres away from the seven remainig guards who bore down upon him instantly. Parrying with his sword, Valek kicked at the leg of a guard, buying himself some time. Running to the wall behind him, Valek took one of the many books from the shelf and hurled it in the direction of the pursuing guards.

Sprinting around the round room, Valek made a move towards Muad'Dib, sword drawn. It was then when the arrow of the Ahm-Sheran Royal Guard pierced the sinew of his lower leg. Dropping to the floor in agony, Valek felt the men press against his back and his was bound at the wrists and taken from the room. His hair messed and his tunic soaked in blood, it was the last of the twenty-eighth Lord Commander.

Muad'Dib had refused to move throughout the entire flurry of the fight. He knew that Valek would have died at the hands of the Fedaykin long before he even came within sword-reach of the Fremen chieftain.

Muad'Dib quickly went to the fallen guard who had lost his arm. He removed his Fremen cloak without hesitation and tied it tightly around the bicep of the man's arm to slow the flow of blood pumping from his wound. The Fremen called out "Get this man to a healer now!" Two more guards entered the room and carried him out of the room as quickly as they could. The Fremen chieftain said to the rest of the council "We must prepare the army for war immediately. It is a four week journey through the Avalon mountains to reach Thunderton and it will take us at least three days to muster the forces we need."

The seven guards which had taken Valek bundled him into one of the cells beneath the royal palace. As they threw the man to the ground, his hands bound, one of the guards in the livery of the royal palace laughed. His name was Ryack Tigh and he said "This has been a long time coming traitor. When the Lord-General returns we'll see you dance in the hangman's noose." The cell door slammed shut with a metallic clang and the heavy bolts were put in place. The footsteps of the guards receeded along the stone corridor.

Valek roared in anger as he fell to his knees. All was dark.

Mardat nodded to Muad'Dib. "I will order for the beacons to be lit. We should have all the peoples sent to the fortress cities," Mardat said, the fourth most-powerful man in Ahm-Shere spoke with confidence

"Agreed," replied Beregond in his heavy, southern accent. His deep voice echoing; bouncing off the walls of the chamber. "I will have the Silver Lances gathered by daybreak, and a further 5,000 of the Verdonsk garrison will be ready to travel to Avalon in the hour."

Muad'Dib nodded "Good. We will need a solid force of infantry and cavalry. Speed will be of the essence, but without knowing what foes we face, a mix of infantry and cavalry will be the best choice. Along with the Silver Lances, we will muster five hundred of the medium cavalry and five hundred of the Verdonsk cavalry. Send word to the tribes nearby and request eight hundred of their light cavalry as well. There are a few tribes within a days ride of here whose warriors use Khetars, pole weapons will help the flanks of the main infantry. We will need three hundred at least."

The chieftain sat down in his seat and thought for a moment "As for the rest of the infantry, I want another five thousand of the Verdonsk infantry made ready as well. We will need archers on foot, one thousand from the ordinary ranks and two hundred of the Serpent archers, their accuracy and special arrows will be important. And send riders out quickly, because I have a special request. We know that the majority of our forces have only fought within the borders of Ahm-Shere, we will need veterans who can steady the line. I want you to send word for five thousand and eight hundred Glorian Veterans. That will give us our twenty thousand. Are we agreed?"

Muad'Dib said "Now that we have our forces decided, we must get them mustered. It will take three days for the Glorians to reach us, that is how long we have to muster the others. We all know what we are doing gentlemen, let's get to it. Finally, I will be leading the force, which means the Serpent Council will be much diminished without myself as well as Beregond and David. But those of you who are left are in command of Ahm-Shere, keep it safe my friends."

Quickly the Fremen chieftain turned and walked out of the room, his bodyguard of Fedaykin following silently in his wake. Muad'Dib and his Fedaykin walked through the streets without breaking stride. His residence was about half an hour's walk from the royal palace but they arrived in good time.

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