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    The Silver Wolf-The Honor Of The Crown: Kings And Vagabonds
    Posted on Mon, September 20, 2021 by LordCeb
    CruelSummerLord writes "He briefly imagined himself on the throne of Flinthold, making peace with Garnetholme and making restitution to the Kutunachke. He saw himself helping his wounded nation heal, helping his people grieve for their losses and rebuild what was broken. He saw himself leading the charge against any orcs, giants or other monsters that threatened his fellow gnomes.

    Chapter Twenty

    Kings And Vagabonds

    Pellana felt a hollow ache in her stomach as she walked through Flinthold. There was wreckage everywhere, from the remains of bonfires that consumed the gnomes’ possessions to broken masonry scattered from damaged buildings. The streets were stained with blood and thronged with corpses. Pellana saw not only the bodies of gnomish soldiers, Kutunachke warriors and Lady Babylon’s minions, but also the bodies of civilians slaughtered by the invading monsters. It would be years before Flinthold physically recovered from the devastation. Pellana realized that it would take the gnomes even longer to mentally recover from their losses.

    Pellana was part of a delegation of matriarchs who’d accompanied the Kutunachke warrior societies in their march to Flinthold. Although they obviously didn’t participate in the battle, the matriarchs wanted to be on hand to speak for their people immediately in the coming negotiations with Flinthold’s leaders. Pellana would be joining those negotiations, but she’d also been asked to try and do something that would strengthen the Kutunachke’s position.

    Despite her age, Pellana was quick on her feet and skilled at moving about without being seen. It didn’t take her long to find where the adventurers who’d visited the Kutunachke to request their help were staying. They were wounded and exhausted from their battle against Lady Babylon, and they were resting in a house next to the park where they’d fought the dragon. The house hadn’t been damaged much by Lady Babylon or her monsters, and it was an ideal place for the companions to take a breather.

    Looking into the house through a large window, Pellana saw that most of the companions were sitting in the living room or eating something in the kitchen. Pellana heard the young brown-haired woman, the priestess of Pelor, mention that the gnome Airk was resting upstairs, where it was the most comfortable.

    That was all Pellana needed to hear. The house had a staircase at its back that led to a terrace on the second floor, and a door that led into the house proper. It took just over a minute for Pellana to ascend the stairs, enter the house through the upper door, and find where Airk was resting. As she’d hoped, he was sound asleep in the master bedroom, with the Crown of Arumdina on a table next to him with the rest of his equipment.

    As Pellana walked into the room, she tried not to gasp at Airk’s injuries. He’d been badly gashed where Lady Babylon’s claws struck him, and his entire body was marked with burns from the dragon’s fiery breath. Pellana felt a surge of pity as she saw how badly he was hurt, and suddenly had second thoughts about what she’d come to do.

    Pellana thought of all the devastation and loss she’d seen on her way here, and wondered what she had planned would do to the gnomes. It might cause further anguish and despair to a people who’d already suffered so much.

    Then she remembered how her own people had fought and died for the gnomes, fought and died for promises that proved to be empty when the gnomes first made them centuries ago. She owed it to her people to make sure the gnomes lived up to their promises this time.

    She took the Crown of Arumdina and walked back into the hallway, intending to leave by the back stairway without the companions ever knowing she was there.

    Pellana didn’t count on meeting Revafour in the hallway as he came up to bring Airk some food and water. Revafour’s eyes widened as he saw the Crown in Pellana’s hands. For a moment, she thought he was going to try to restrain her, or just call out and warn the rest of his friends.

    She recognized the indecision on his face, as he likely wrestled with the same issues she did. She saw the pain on his face, as he likely wondered what his friends would do if he let her go. Finally, as she expected, she saw him nod at her.

    She nodded back in appreciation and left through the back door, silently praying for Revafour as she returned to the other matriarchs.

    Revafour mentally braced himself when he heard Airk’s cry of dismay from upstairs. He heard the scrambling footsteps of Seline and Weimar, who’d both gone upstairs to rest themselves, running to see what was wrong. The rest of the companions were still downstairs with Revafour, and he joined them in running up to join their friends. When all the companions had gathered, Revafour felt his stomach turn at Airk’s expression. The gnome seemed caught partway between despair and anger, his emotions constantly shifting back and forth.

    “The Crown…it’s…gone…” Airk said, scarcely able to believe it. “It was right here. How could…a divination!” he said, suddenly turning to Luna. “Could you cast a divination?”

    “I could, but not right now,” Luna said. “I’ll need to rest before I can prepare a spell like that.”

    “Maybe Borrinn could find it with his crystal ball,” Weimar said.

    For a moment, Revafour hesitated. He saw two paths in front of him, neither of them leading to a good end. If he kept silent, he prolonged Airk’s pain and would likely lose his friendship altogether if the gnome found out about Pellana’s actions. If he told his friends about Pellana’s actions, the Kutunachke might lose any hope of forcing the gnomes to keep their promises of renewing the treaty.

    Then he remembered what Airk said to the Regency Council in Silverspire, and how it finally revealed the Crown’s powers.

    Nodding, half in dread and half in hope, he spoke up.

    “You don’t need to ask Borrinn to use his crystal,” Revafour said. “He’ll tell you the Kutunachke have the Crown.”

    The rest of the companions stared at Revafour in astonishment. To the surprise of everyone, even Revafour himself, Airk was surprisingly calm. His eyes widened at Revafour’s admission, before they narrowed again.

    “How in the Nine Hells did they get ahold of it?” Airk asked, his lips thin.

    “Because Pellana took it,” Revafour said, his stomach twisting in knots at the admission. “I saw here leaving your room with it when I came up here.”

    The rest of the companions were caught somewhere between shock and anger, but again Airk was quiet and calm.

    “…Why?” was the only word Airk said.

    “Why do you think?” Revafour said. “This might be the only chance the Kutunachke have to regain their homelands! Do you think the gnomes need the Crown to be able to thrive? Well, the Kutunachke need their homes! How do you know the gnomes, especially Moswen, won’t just break their promises like their ancestors did?”

    “And what would it take for us to get the Crown back?” Airk asked.

    “Making the promises binding,” Revafour said. “Make whoever becomes Flinthold’s king swear an oath to Pelor,” he continued, gesturing to Luna, “and to whichever gnomish gods you want. Do that, and the Kutunachke will swear to the oaths too. Returning the Crown will be part of it.”

    “So they want to renew the old treaty,” Airk realized.

    “That’s all they’ve likely ever wanted,” Revafour said.

    Airk stood in silence for a long time, thinking about everything that had happened over the last several weeks. A part of him was angry at Pellana’s taking the Crown, but he also recalled his words to the Regency Council in Silverspire. Then he thought about the joy he’d felt when the companions first returned to the Lortmils, seeing the majestic peaks, the beautiful woods and lakes, the dance of the moons over the starlit skies. All the turmoil he’d felt about everything he’d failed at, from the Hateful Wars to killing Laessar, all faded away when he saw those mountains.

    Most of Airk’s friends were shocked at Revafour’s admission, but they were even more surprised at Airk’s final reaction. He took a deep breath and nodded.

    “She did what she had to do,” Airk said. “Come on, we need to hurry.”

    Why’s that? Ma’non’go asked.

    “Because the Regency Council’s probably going to be confronting the Kutunachke’s leaders,” Airk said. “We need to stop Moswen before he does something foolish.”

    The companions, Revafour and Airk in the lead, were part of a crowd gathering around several of the Kutunachke leaders and the members of Flinthold’s ruling council. Pellana and several of the other Kutunachke matriarchs, guarded by Borrinn and several of the lead Kutunachke warriors, faced Moswen and the rest of Flinthold’s ruling council. Both parties were soon surrounded by all their peoples, gnome and Flan human alike. Pellana clearly held the Crown of Arumdina in her hands, locking stares with Moswen.

    “I knew it!” Moswen shouted at Pellana. “I knew you’d betray us sooner or later! What business do you have stealing our Crown-“

    “You’ll excuse us if we want to make sure you’ll keep your promises,” one of the Kutunachke matriarchs said, not backing down an inch. “Have you forgotten everything about Adamanhall? Or do you just not care?”

    “That crown is ours,” Moswen said. “We shed our blood for it, and we’ll shed yours if you don’t return-“

    Arthur was standing with the other councillors, and he locked eyes with Airk. Both gnomes nodded to each other, and they stepped between the Regency Council and the Kutunachke leaders.

    “Is your skull really that thick?” Arthur said, cutting Moswen off. “Or has your ambition blinded you so much you can’t see past your own damn nose anymore? We’d never have retaken our homes without the Kutunachke. We’d never have gotten the Crown back or slain the Scarlet Woman if it wasn’t for Airk and his friends. Humans and a halfling have been our saviors. Is this how we repay them?”

    “Our capital is in ruins,” Airk said, joining the conversation. “We ought be more worried about our wives and children. We don’t just need the Crown’s blessings, we need the humans too. And the Crown never reacted until I talked about our keeping our word to the Kutunachke.”

    “We don’t have to be enemies,” Pellana said, as the gnomes turned to look at her and the other Kutunachke leaders. “All we’ve ever wanted is equal access to our homes. That doesn’t mean the gnomes can’t live here either. Besides, we can help you rebuild. You’ll need food and other supplies to feed your people. We can help you get it.”

    “The last thing we need right now is more bloodshed, Moswen,” Arthur said, “and you and your cronies are the only ones who want it. Not now, not when our peoples’ lives are in ruins!”

    Moswen bristled angrily at Arthur’s words, but then Arthur played his trump card.

    “And did you forget what Garl Glittergold told us through Erthrand’s spell?” he said, recalling how Erthrand, Flinthold’s patriarch of Garl Glittergold, had cast a spell asking Garl for guidance on who should be king. “About the Crown’s power come to life on the brow of a worthy champion…”

    “...who might choose to found a king’s line?” Arthur finished, turning to Airk.

    Everyone, from the Kutunachke to his fellow gnomes to his adventuring friends, all turned to look at Airk. He stared in utter shock at Arthur’s words, barely able to process what Arthur was getting at.

    “I…I…the Crown…take…throne…” he said, his mind whirling with the implications of what Arthur had just said.

    He briefly imagined himself on the throne of Flinthold, making peace with Garnetholme and making restitution to the Kutunachke. He saw himself helping his wounded nation heal, helping his people grieve for their losses and rebuild what was broken. He saw himself leading the charge against any orcs, giants or other monsters that threatened his fellow gnomes.

    Then he remembered everything else. He remembered how he’d been fooled by Kalrek’s deceptions, how he’d survived the Steelhearts’ massacre of his fellow soldiers during the Hateful Wars, how he had Laessar Bradon’s blood on his hands…

    Finally, Airk looked at his friends in the Company of the Silver Wolf. They seemed dismayed at the thought of his leaving them, though he knew they’d support him if that’s what he chose. They felt more like family to him than any of his fellow gnomes did, particularly after all they’d done to help him find the Crown and bring it home, even though they had no stake in doing so.

    Taking a deep breath, weighing his words carefully, he finally spoke.

    “…I cannot take the throne,” he said, “not as I am. I might be worthy to wear the Crown in Flinthold’s defense, but I’ve no right to be king. There’s too much blood on my hands.”

    “I might have guessed!” Moswen said before anyone else could react. “And as for you,” he said, turning to the Kutunachke’s leaders, “it’s a fine thing to say you want to help us when you won’t return the thing we need to recoup our losses. You say you want your lands back?”

    “Yes, but not just that,” one of the matriarchs said. “We want a written guarantee, sworn on both your gods as well as ours. If you don’t trust any of our priests of Pelor, that young lady over there would serve just as well,” the matriarch said, gesturing towards Luna. “And choose whichever of your own priests you wish to represent your own gods.”

    “Agreed!” Arthur said before Moswen could speak up.

    The Crown of Arumdina immediately started to glow in Pellana’s hands, its axe-shaped mithril monde shining brightly.

    Erthrand, the patriarch of Garl Glittergold, then pushed his way forward through the crowd. His eyes shone brightly, seeming to reflect the light emanating from the Crown’s monde. Holding out his hands, he took the Crown when Pellana handed it to him. Finally, he walked back to Arthur.

    “Garl Glittergold said that a worthy champion could choose to found a king’s line. He didn’t mean that champion had to,” Erthrand said. “Garl also said that another gnome could grow into the role of king.”

    All of the gnomes, the Kutunachke, and Airk and his friends all fell silent at that.

    Nothing more needed to be said.

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