Rites of Succesion
Written by Harry McKenzie, copyright 2007; posted with full permissions.
Okay, this will be a short story set after the War of the Four Winds that will hopefully clear up a bit of info on the Stonehelm Clan. -Harry McKenzie
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on the SisterWorlds' forum. The document has not been changed, save for the following: HTML coding, some mispellings, italicizing.
Dalan 18, 1330 Avard, in the Hearth of the Stonehelm Clan, Warkore Mountains
Commodore Seamus Stonehelm stood in the entry hall of his adoptive family's home with tears rolling freely down his face as he surveyed the destruction wrought by the Ogarian Forces in their short occupation of his home. Centuries of finely crafted stonework were rubble or defaced, anything of value had been carried off, and though the bodies had been removed, the stench of death still permeated the place.
A tiny pair of arms wrapped themselves around him from behind and a soft whisper echoed in his ear as Lady Cleo, his lover, companion, and friend sought to comfort him. In the semi-darkness of the torch lit cavern, she was for all practical purposes, invisible. He couldn't vocalize a reply, so he squeezed her hand in response.
He had known it was going to bad, but the reality was far worse than anything he had imagined, and Commodore Seamus had a good imagination. He took a moment to get a grip on his heavy heart, and strode into the only home he had ever known. He would bear this, and put all of his not quite considerable resources to use in returning the Clan Hearth to it's former beauty.
He half-turned to the two Dwarves who stood with him, his younger adoptive brother Thorril Yarbus Stonehelm, and his adoptive cousin, Angus Yarbus Stonehelm, “We have much work to do.” he said to them in a broken voice. His Elven tongue gave the harsh Dwarven dialect a slightly musical quality…something that his adoptive mother had found endearing. She would never hear it again though, she was dead at her husbands side, a true Dwarven maiden to the end.
“Aye, that we do.” Thorril replied softly. He reached out and grasped his adoptive elder brother's shoulder and gave it a strong squeeze…a display of affection they had shared for the past fifty years growing up together. Adopted Seamus might be, but loved like a blood relation among this family he was. Seamus returned the gesture in kind, gracing his younger sibling with a faint smile.
“Then we should get busy.” Angus said in his usual gruff manner. His blood red eyes glittered with moisture as well. Of the three, only Thorril had been here when the Hearth fell, a fact that kept Seamus and Angus both awake nights, pained by guilt for not being here in the family's time of need. That they had been in the King's service kept them from disgrace…but did little to ease their pained hearts.
Dalan 24, 1330 Avard
The last week had been a whirl of activity. Parties of Dwarves, with a sprinkling of Seamus' sailors had gone through the complex and cleaned it out. Debris, rubble and the occasional body had been removed and the entire place scrubbed free of blood, spoor, mold and mildew. The smell was now gone and the stonework, while still damaged, gleamed.
Seamus found himself in what had formerly been his father's forge. He was quietly going about the task of repairing damage to the flue when Thorril entered, “Do you have a minute Brother? Norrin would like to speak with you.” The younger Stonehelm asked politely, indicating a much older Dwarf with a frost white beard standing behind him.
“I suppose I can find time for our best smith.” Seamus replied with a smile as he set aside the tools in his hands and blew stone dust from his hands. He was not really much of a stone worker, but the simple work required for most repairs was not beyond his skill. He waved the two of them inside the forge itself, indicating a pair of battered stools for them to seat themselves upon. He perched himself down on the edge of an equally battered table, furnishings, were in short supply at the moment, and what they had was a far cry from the usual high quality they were used to here.
Norrin Gustav Stonehelm was in fact their only surviving Master Smith of the clan. He looked around at the repair work in progress and gave a satisfied nod of approval, “The Clan Council will be meeting tomorrow evening, Seamus. “ Norrin said, looking directly into the Elf's eyes, “And you and your brother are to be there, as you're the last members of the Clan Chief's family”
The old Dwarf hesitated for a moment before continuing, “Your father was one of the finest Dwarves I ever knew, boy…and the stories we're getting back about you…well…he would be proud.”
Seamus was speechless for a moment, the raw pain of his loss robbing him of words, giving Norrin a chance to continue, “There's those what say you not being here or at the Mountain are strikes against you…don't listen to that…if old Graniteshoulders commanded it, your father would have been elsewhere…it's the way of our clan…we are in the King's service before all else…remember that…and make the naysayers remember it too. You may not be a Stonehelm by birth…but by Galgiran, you're one at heart.”
He paused for a moment, and turned to Thorril, “And as for you, well…you were here…you know the score…Torril Bandylegs has agreed to begin your training as a Hammer, once his Clan arrives.
Seamus started to say something, but Thorril cut him off, “It will be as we discussed earlier then, Norrin.” He clasped the older Dwarf's forearm and then returned his attention to Seamus, “There's a bit more to Norrin's invite we need to discuss, Seamus…and this isn't the place…come with me.”
Seamus kept silent and stood up as his brother saw Norrin out, and then fell in step beside him as he headed out of the forge and began to make his way across the Hearth. The two remained silent as they made their way to the Clan Crypt. Once they reached the crypts, they made their way to the side chamber that housed their family.
Thorril entered and stood before their father Yarbus' tomb, laying a hand on the cool stone and giving a sigh, “Somehow I think he hoped a few more of us would have survived.” He said quietly.
“Aye.” Seamus agreed as he came up and placed a hand on the sarcophagus as well, “But he'd not have asked for a better way to go.”
“Which brings us to the matter at hand.” Thorril said as he removed his hand and turned to face his brother, “It's time the new Clan Chieftain took up his duties…that's what the Council is meeting about…they will confirm the new Chieftain and formally announce him to the King's Court. Ordinarily quite a simple event…but at the moment we have a problem…”
“And that problem is?” Seamus inquired with a raised eyebrow.
“Trugar Hammerstorm and his lot plan on making a claim to the Chieftain's Seat.” Thorril replied tiredly.
“Bah…those malcontents have no claim to it…” Seamus replied dismissively, waving a hand in the air as if to clear away smoke, “The Chieftain's first borne son is always next in line…unless he's either childless or the son is dead…which you aren't.”
“True enough…except that you never did pay attention to the finer details of the wording, you flighty tree hugger.” Thorril replied good naturedly, “It isn't 'first borne son'…it's 'eldest son'…which is you.”
There was a long moment of silence before Seamus spoke again, “You're joking right?”
“Not at all.” Thorril replied grimly, “Trugar and his bunch think that they have a case…since you're not a 'true' Stonehelm.”
Seamus was silent as he stroked his mustache and considered the situation.”We need to find out if his argument has merit.” He said after a bit, “And if so..how much.”
“Already done. And the answer is…well…since there is no precedent in clan history…their argument holds as much merit as our own.” Thorril replied.
“So it will come down to who has the better presentation to the council?” Seamus asked.
“Yes.” Thorril replied unhappily, “And the council is almost evenly split on the issue.”
“Then we shall have to make a very good presentation of our case.” Seamus said.
“You always did have a way with words.” Thorril replied with a sly grin. Seamus raised and eyebrow and gave his brother an affronted look. “Well…you do.” Thorril insisted. Seamus merely shrugged and gave him an amused smile.
“I'll have to do some research on this.” Seamus finally said as he began to walk towards the doorway. Thorril followed him out, muttering under his breath about 'flighty tree hugging elves'.
Dalan 25, 1330 Avard
Seamus sat quietly next to Thorril as the formal opening of the council meeting proceeded. The formalities consisted mainly of a series of speakers introducing the members of the council and reciting their past deeds. All of which tended to cause most of the audience to nod off. Seamus affected a look of bored disinterest as he calmly tallied the numbers of each sub-clan present.
The Stonehelms were divided into 3 sub-clans: the Stonehelms proper were the mid-sized sub clan now, with perhaps 175 members, the Hammerstorms the smallest at 75, and the Chasmstriders were largest with 250 or so. The numbers present for the meeting weren't really reflecting this however, there were about 30 Stonehelms, 50 Chasmstriders, and unsurprisingly, at least to Seamus, 70 Hammerstorms.
Seamus steepled his fingers and peered through them at the gathering, as he had suspected, the Hammerstorms were packing the meeting to make their position seem well-supported. He wondered if the council would see through that little trick. He was fairly certain they would, what he was less certain of, was the Chasmstriders position, there were rumblings that many of them felt his father, Yarbus, had led the clan into a disastrous fight that brought no gain.
Finally, the introductions were complete and Seldar Chasmstrider stood and began to speak, “Alright, the first order of business tonight is the appointment of the new Clan Chieftain…in accordance with Clan Law the deceased Clan Chieftain's eldest son shall rule…” He turned slightly to face the table Seamus, Thorril and Angus sat behind, “Seamus Stonehelm…”
“OBJECTION!!!” Trugar Hammerstorm shot to his feet, shouting and interrupting Seldar, most of the Hammerstorms were on their feet as well, “HE'S NAE THE CHIEFTAIN'S TRUE SON AND HAS NO CLAIM TO THE THRONE!”
A storm of shouted agreement rose from Trugars people and Seldar had to bang his mailed fist on the podium and shout them down to restore order. After a few minutes order was restored and Seldar spoke again, “Trugar Hammerstorm, you wish to contest this matter?”
“AYE!” was his shouted reply, his people broke into cheers and thunderous applause.
Seldar waited for the chamber to quiet down and then he spoke again, “In accordance with Dwarven Law, Trugar Hammerstorm has contested the right of succession of Seamus Stonehelm…Trugar shall be granted the right to present his case, and then Seamus shall make any reply to it he sees fit.”
Seldar turned the full force of his formidable glower on Trugar before he continued, “Be warned Trugar Hammerstorm…should your contesting of this matter turn out to be not valid…you stand the possibility of being charged with interfering with the lawful succession of a Clan Chieftain…a most grave offense…having been so warned…do you wish to proceed with this challenge?”
Seamus noted that Trugar looked a bit surprised by the warning, perhaps he thought that there were no consequences to his actions should he not prevail? Still, he sounded off with another confident “Aye!”
“Very well…the floor belongs to Trugar Hammerstorm.” Seldar said as he leaned back in his seat and folded his hands in front of him on the table.
Trugar strode forward to stand before the council table, he turned and began to speak, “Never in the long and honored history of our clan has an outsider…an Elf…ever led us. Why the very idea is unheard of! Why would we pass leadership of our clan to such as he? Oh, to be sure, Yarbus did a noble thing, taking him in and raising him…but he's nae one of us…and I daresay he never will be.”
Angus growled menacingly from his seat next to Seamus, but the Elf held up a hand to him and gave him a slight shake of the head, the time for rebuttal would come. For now, Seamus remained silent as Trugar continued.
“And what of Yarbus? Was he a good leader at all? After all, did we not lose almost three quarters of our clan in a war that gained us naught? Surely he saw the folly of trying to stand and fight against such overwhelming numbers? Better we should have withdrawn to a more defensible area and perhaps weathered the war with more of our people intact?”
Again, Angus shifted and growled low in his throat. Seamus gave him a pointed look and he quieted, though his face remained a study in fury. Among the crowd in the chamber, many other faces reflected similar feelings, though far too many were nodding in agreement with Trugar than Seamus was comfortable seeing. Trugar continued his speech.
“Our laws do state that the eldest son should inherit the throne, but Seamus is not a true son of Yarbus, and by law, the throne should pass to the ranking warrior or Priest among us…which if memory serves me is Thane Brastin Hammerstorm.”
Trugar paused as quiet muttering erupted among the crowd. He waited for it to die down a bit before he continued, “That is my challenge to the council on this matter.” He bowed slightly and moved back to his people.
Seldar looked over the room and asked, “Are there any others who would challenge this matter?”
No one spoke up and Seldar turned to Seamus, “Right then. Seamus, speak your piece.”
Seamus remained seated but he sat up a bit straighter as he began to speak, “Trugar has stated that I am not a true son of Yarbus and thus am not worthy to lead our clan…I would direct your attention to pillar four in the Hall of Memory, where the following directive is carved, 'And so any orphaned child taken in by the clan shall be considered a full member of the clan with all the rights and privileges that this entail, once the orphaned child has completed an apprenticeship or been recognized for prowess in battle'.”
Seamus reached down to the floor next to his seat and lifted up a sword, carefully setting it before him on the table, most in the room recognized it as a watered-steel longsword, the symbol of a Knight of Rakore. “Seldar, would you be so kind as to identify this sword and it's owner for the council?” he asked politely.
Seldar got up and moved over to inspect the sword, after a moment, he turned to face the crowd, “This is a watered-steel longsword, engraved with it's owners name, and date entered into the Knighthood…it belongs to Seamus Yarbus Stonehelm.” There was absolute silence in the council chamber now.
“I believe that should settle the matter?” Seamus asked politely.
“Indeed it does.” Seldar replied. He strode back to the council's table and they carried on a hushed discussion for a few moments. Seldar then turned back to the crowd, “The challenge is found to be without merit…based on ignorance of Clan Law, rather than any attempt to subvert the rightful order of succession…therefore Seamus Yarbus Stonehelm is to be recognized as the new Clan Chieftain, effective from this day forward.”
“The resultant angry shouting mixed with some cheers went on for a few moments, until Seamus stood and gestured for silence. He then began to speak, “Trugar Hammerstorm…though you were within your right to lodge a challenge against me…you insulted my father's good name and called his leadership of this clan into question…I would ask now that you apologize.”
Trugar was livid, his face had gone red and his beard bristled in anger, “I'll not apologize for my words…your father was every bit the fool I said he was!”
The room went dead silent again as Seamus continued to stare down the angry Dwarf, “Then you leave me no choice…you will meet me in the commons in one mark and we will settle this like true Dwarves…with steel.”
One Mark Later
Seamus stood waiting on one side of the commons, Cleo, Thorril, Angus, Maui, and Norrin forming a rough circle behind him. Seamus was dressed in his usual leather armor, enchanted gauntlets, and cloak, and had his enchanted rapier held loosely in his right hand. It's lurid red glow gave his face an angry cast. He carried no shield.
For the last hour his friends and crew mates had been trying to talk him out of this duel, but he would have none of it. Only Angus and Thorril understood what was at stake here, and there were angry words from Cleo when neither of them would speak up to try to convince Seamus not to do this. She was now quite visibly trembling with anger, and her eyes had taken on a shade of black that worried Seamus. He knew that there was more to her mingling with that demon than she let on sometimes.
Trugar arrived with most of his people in attendance, unlike Seamus, he wore chain mail armor, including a helmet, carried a Dwarven longsword and a heavy iron shield. After a moment of staring each other down, the two came forward and met in the center. Seldar and two young Dwarves that were acting as his assistants came forward as well.
“In accordance with law and custom, this duel is to be between the two principles, Seamus Yarbus Stonehelm, and Trugar Hammerstorm…as the aggrieved party, Seamus gets to choose…to the death, first blood, or surrender.” Seldar announced. He looked to Seamus for the decision.
“First blood…though a surrender is acceptable as well.” Seamus replied as he laid the blade of his sword across his shoulder.
“Very well…first blood or surrender it is.” Seldar announced to the still growing crowd, “Trugar, you may make any further stipulations if you so choose.”
“None of your Elven magic tricks.” Trugar snarled.
“Fine by me.” Seamus replied. He turned his back to Trugar and walked back to his small knot of supporters. After a moment of scowling at Seamus' back, Trugar did the same.
Seamus halted in front of Cleo, without a word, he removed his cloak and handed it to her, she accepted it wordlessly, though the scowl on her face did lessen a bit. Then he turned and faced his opponent. He nodded to Seldar that he was ready. Seldar then looked to Trugar who nodded as well.
Seldar raised his hand and then brought it down sharply, Trugar bolted forward at full speed and Seamus started forward at a casual pace. Within a heartbeat, the two were on each other, Trugar roaring a battle cry as he thrust his sword forward to skewer Seamus, who suddenly, wasn't there. The Elf sidestepped, turning and bringing his own sword up and across in a vicious slash that was just barely halted on Trugar's shield.
The two began to carefully circle each other as Trugar now realized that Seamus wouldn't be the easy victory he at first thought. In truth, he should have known better, one doesn't get to be a Knight of Rakore without having formidable combat skill. Still, he was wearing chain and the Elf was clad in leather, no true fighter would choose leather, it just wasn't made to handle rough and tumble combat.
Trugar charged in again, feigning a high swing that he abruptly changed to a low cut meant to remove a leg at the last second. Again the Elf seemed to dance out of the way of the blow, responding with a slash of his own that struck sparks from Trugar's shield.
Trugar turned with the blow and swung an overhead chop at Seamus, who deftly parried the chop on his own blade, and while Trugar was off balance, his left hand shot forward, a dagger, unnoticed until now, slicing through the strap securing the heavy iron shield to his left arm, causing it to drop and pull him further off balance. He released his hold on the shield, but it was too late, as Seamus stepped back, his sword came up, the blade gently grazing Trugar's right cheek, opening a long cut that ran from jawline to eyesocket.
“Firstblood! Seamus wins!” Seldar shouted as Trugar threw down his sword in frustration and anger.
Seamus merely pulled back a step, wiped his blade clean before returning it to it's sheathe and walked back over to his small knot of friends and family.
“Well done Cousin!” Angus greeted him enthusiastically.
Seamus snorted in disgust, “He tried to fight me like I was a lumbering Orc…bloody idiot.”
“To be fair, Trugar has never fought anything but Orcs…” Thorril pointed out rather diplomatically, “And not many of those…he always seemed to be late to the fight…” Thorril trailed off, not wanting to say anything further.
“Still…you'd have thought someone would have pointed out to him that I probably wouldn't use Orc tactics against him.” Seamus grumbled.
“Aye…unless they had a reason not to.” Norrin added in, “Trugar is a braggart and a blowhard…not really much use outside of a tavern brawl really…but dumb enough to be talked into making the challenge…and equally dumb enough to insult yer Da and not apologize…so he was perfect for the Hammerstorms to use to see if they could wrest the Chieftainship away…if he losses out, no loss to them…if he wins…well…you can bet they had someone besides him in mind for the job.”
Seamus gave Norrin a glare tempered with respect, “Bloody brilliant of them I think. If you had this figured all along, why didn't you say anything?”
Norrin shrugged, “Because you had to go through with the challenge, boy…the duel was unexpected…but you handled it as well as we could have hoped…if anyone had coached you too much, it could have backfired on us.”
Seamus stood, pondering the events of the day for a few minutes before speaking again, “Well…now what? I'm Clan Chieftain…what next?”
“The council will confirm you as such and present you to the Graniteshoulders as our New Cheiftain.” Seldar replied as he came up behind Seamus, “I suppose we'll have to find you some honest ceremonial armor for the occasion…damned if I know where we'll find any to fit ye though…”
Seamus groaned, he HATED any kind of armor other than his leathers.
“Leave that to me.” Norrin said, “I have a few pieces that I think we can alter to fit him…be close time wise, but I can get some help and get it done.”
ONE WEEK LATER
Seamus stood before the council with a rather satisfied smirk on his face. The grumbling coming from several members was almost drowned out by Angus' howls of laughter.
“As you can see…there is plenty of precedence for my action here.” Seamus explained once Angus had quieted a bit, “Since I am still in the active service of King Graniteshoulders, it is in the Clan's best interest that I appoint Thorril as Regent to serve as Chieftain until such time as my obligation to King Graniteshoulders is discharged.”
At least half the council was now nodding in agreement as Seamus spoke, “And another point in favor of my doing so is that it will give the more reluctant members of the clan time to adjust to the idea of having an Elf as their Cheiftain.”
“All good points Sire,” Seldar agreed, “But are you sure that the King won't discharge your obligation now?”
“Positive.” Seamus replied flatly, “My services are desperately needed right now. My appointing a Regent allows me to keep my word to the King that I was still available to him on a moments notice.He was very direct with that line of questioning after the formalities yesterday.”
Angus began to laugh again, but abruptly cut off with a loud “OOF!” as his chair seemed to move on it's own, dropping him to the floor with a clank of metal striking stone. Cleo appeared at his side immediately and helped him to his feet with an expression of pure innocence.
“Very well, Sire, it shall be as you decree then.” Seldar finally agreed.
“Excellent! Then from this day until such time as my duties to the King are discharged, Thorril Stonehelm shall act as Regent in my place.” Seamus announced formally.
He stepped up to the table and unrolled a parchment. Then he produced a small pot of wax, which he poured a small amount of onto the bottom of the document. He pressed a small silver rod which bore his seal into the wax and then handed the document to his brother.
“I leave our clan in your capable hands, my brother. May Galgiran give you wisdom.” Seamus said quietly to Thorril.
“You're nae fooling me with this…” Thorril whispered in reply, “Ever since we told you that you were to be Chieftain, you've been looking for a way to get away…not that I blame you…I'll do my best…but don't be gone for too long Brother…the clan needs you…and you need them.”
Seamus nodded and reached out, placing his arm around his brother, pulling them close and leaning down so that their foreheads were almost touching,”I know…but right now…they need you to help build them back up…you're better suited to the task than I could ever be…this is your time to shine my Brother…my time isn't yet…but someday it will be…and when it is…I'll be here.”
Thorril nodded and the two of them clasped their hands on each other's shoulders and squeezed before they broke apart and Seamus turned and left the room.
Cleo was waiting for him outside, though he hadn't seen her leave the room, “Well…does this mean I don't have to call you Sire?” She asked with an arched eyebrow.
“Smart alec.” He muttered as he took her arm and began to lead her towards his family's, now his home.
“Always have been.” She replied.
For a bit they walked arm in arm in companionable silence, until finally Seamus spoke, “This changes everything, you know?”
“What do you mean?” She asked as they came to a halt in front of Seamus' home.
“Even though I've appointed Thorril to rule in my place, I'm still Clan Chieftain.” He replied tiredly, “I will have to return and take my place here…and I will be expected to marry and produce an heir.”
Her face remained neutral as she said, “And since I'm barren, I'm not a suitable wife?”
“No! By The Lady, girl, I was bloody adopted, surely my heir could be as well?” He pulled her close, “I'll not ask you to marry me just yet…but you won't be judged unsuitable just because of that!”
She broke into a smile and molded herself to his body, “You would really consider marrying me?”
“Of course.” He replied as he tried to maintain his train of thought, “Why would you think otherwise?”
“Because I'm not easily domesticated?” She breathed into his ear as he hands began to wander.
“And that's bad, why?” He asked in a whisper as his own hands began to explore her body in return.
“I dunno…I just always thought that I wasn't the type to marry and settle down.” She whispered as they continued to pet each other.
“Nothing says we have to setle down.” He replied with a twinkle in his eye.
She was gently guiding them through the doorway of Seamus' dwelling by now, her leg nudged the door closed, and as it clicked shut, anyone passing by might have heard the tinkle of laughter from within