About eight years ago, I had an idea for a story based off of the War of the Roses. The War of the Roses was a conflict between two cadet branches of the English royal family in the 1400s. It pitted the members of the York and Lancastrian families against each other in a series of battles lasting decades. Ultimately, the Lancastrian branch “won” and reunited with the York family in the marriage of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York, daughter of King Edward IV. It’s quite a fascinating history and also inspired me to write a political intrigue with some fantasy elements thrown in. In the hopes of publishing it sometime next year, I decided I wanted to share my process, progress, and thoughts as I write this story. I plan on a trilogy collectively called A Traitor’s Game. The first book in the series will be called A Traitor’s Daughter. Here is a draft of the first chapter!
The comatose man’s final breath rattled from his chest like a sigh, shallow and ragged. Peace settled over his grizzled features, and he lay still. Silence reigned in the sad room. A breeze billowed the curtains in and out, ironically mocking the dead man. Thus ended the life and reign of Hingaer the Just, King of Illyria. An older woman, proud and wise with years of experience, pulled the bed covering over his prone figure. Sighing heavily with melancholy, she turned to her chief secretary awaiting her word. “Summon my sons to the Great Hall,” she commanded quietly, her steady voice masking her sorrow. “Please,” she added somberly, a tear betraying her true emotions.
The secretary, Ardyn, bowed, knowing the weight of her words. “Yes, my lady.”
“And,” Ingrid continued. Ardyn halted and turned around. “Tell no one what has occurred.”
“Yes, my lady. You have my word.” Bowing once more, he withdrew from the room.
Ingrid, the Queen of Illyria, walked with slow and brooding steps to her chair. Sitting upon the worn wood, she stared at the other end of the room, anticipating her next dilemma. Ingrid’s fingers traced the deep engravings and scrolls in the chair’s arms pensively. She would need to tell her three sons, two of whom resided in Illyria’s capital Ithmaer.
Renault, the elder of the two, was conniving, clever, and fiercely intelligent. His entire life had been centered on his eventual ascension to the Illyrian throne. From childhood onward, he had been given the best education possible. Arithmetic, science, history, politics, language, grammar, music, and other lessons to shape him into a just and effective ruler. Hingaer had even brought his heir apparent into council meetings to acclimatize him to the intricacies of presiding over the royal court.
But as Renault grew older, Ingrid noticed in him a seeming disregard for courtly tradition and history. The prince proved more interested in exercising his royal prerogative for his own gain over the good of his people. This was a cause of great alarm for both the king and queen. But yet, he was intensely loyal to those close to him, especially his younger sister Eira.
Ingrid’s tumultuous thoughts turned to the second son. Her younger, Aeron, was charismatic, dashing, and just, a true chivalrous knight. He also possessed a kind heart and a sense of duty. Unfortunately kindness was also one of Aeron’s shortcomings; his good nature often meant he followed his heart over his head. Many were a rash decision he had made, especially at the behest of women. His handsome looks, while popular and oft-remarked upon, also created in him a stain of narcissism and arrogance.
The queen sat alone and contemplated in silence, knowing that these would be her last few moments of peace.
Ardyn grieved at the death of his sovereign, but his sworn duty guided his footsteps through the passages of Ithmaer’s main keep, Tethrenfel. Upon coming to an ornate oaken door engraved with a fox, the sign of the eldest Prince of Illyria, he paused and inhaled deeply before knocking. “Who goes there?” a voice cried harshly from within.
“’Tis Ardyn, my lord,” the servant returned, foreboding filling his heart.
The door opened, and Ardyn stepped across the threshold into the room. The apartments were large, with two chambers for servants off the main room, a dressing room, an audience chamber, and the main bedroom for the prince. Renault was seated at a table, perusing a book. The man was of a medium age, about twenty-eight. Most would have called him handsome, with his dark wavy hair, straight nose, narrow mouth, and strong chin. Keen flint-hued eyes peered out from beneath thin charcoal brows. A distinctive sneer permanently etched his face, as if the prince could not be concerned with matters beneath his position or interest. When he spoke, his voice reverberated with a smooth baritone. “What is it, sirrah?” Renault inquired, looking up from his book.
“The queen would have words with you in the Great Hall, my lord,” Ardyn said simply.
“The old man has passed then?” Renault asked, his eyes grating into Ardyn’s with an intensity the older man matched.
“You are to meet with the queen. That is all the message I have for you, my lord.” Ardyn maintained his composure as Renault let loose his fury.
“Come now, Ardyn! Why not speak plainly? Everyone knew his days were numbered! You have not earned the right to withhold information from me if I seek it. Tell me, did the old man die?” He rose up and began to pace, plans, schemes, running through his head.
Ardyn remained silent.
Storming out of the room, Renault heeded his mother’s summonings, not bothering to give Ardyn a second glance.
The servant who had let Ardyn in voiced in a whisper, “Has King Hingaer died?”
To this Ardyn replied promptly, “To speak of the king’s death is considered treason.” He pulled the door shut and left to find Aeron.
Leaving the room behind, Ardyn climbed up two flights of stairs to Aeron’s chambers. Finding that the prince was not there, Ardyn went to the only other place he knew he could find the prince: the armoury forge. Fifteen minutes later the dutiful servant approached the charcoal-coated door which separated him from the forge. From its other side he could hear the sound of steel hammering on steel.
As he entered the room, the smell of sulphur and smoke assaulted Ardyn’s senses. The intense heat was oppressive. Eyes watering and sneezing, the man at last spotted Ingrid’s second son, bent over a sword. “My lord!” he cried over the sound of the forge.
Aeron straightened his back and turned to the servant. He stood a head shorter than Renault. Glowing embers lit up his bright green eyes. Sweat shone on his brow, and his sleeves were pulled up to his mid-upper arm, revealing well-muscled arms. His normally bright chestnut hair was darkened with sweat as well, and dark shadows beneath his eyes sombered Aeron’s demeanor. “What is it, Ardyn?” Concern was in his voice, thinking something was wrong. Ardyn hardly ever came himself to summon the princes.
“Your mother would speak with you and your brother in the Great Hall,” Ardyn replied in the same toneless voice he had used with Renault, not fooled by Aeron’s disarming smile and concern. He knew the prince to be as ambitious as his brother. While neither brother was inherently bad, concern and tensions lingered for the handing over of power. Ingrid couldn’t be queen forever, not at her age.
“What about?” Aeron pried further, his face feigning innocence.
“I am not at liberty to say, my lord. It is only enough that you should heed her words.”
Knowing he would get no more information from the servant, Aeron gave in and left, with a mumbled “thank you”. His calculating mind was already at work. Of course he knew Hingaer had died. It was only a matter of time before the king expired, and now that Ardyn refused to speak of it, all the more truth was given to the circulating rumours. Though he would not be king, Aeron desired to know his inheritance. He was certain of lands and titles befitting the second son of a mighty king. With conflicting emotions in his heart, the twenty-five year old man strode quickly away.
Ingrid’s sons stood before their mother in Tethrenfell’s Great Hall, awaiting the official pronouncement of their father’s death. Ingrid walked into the chamber, her face a stoic mask. “It would be little use in telling you that the king is dead, but tradition calls me to fulfill my duties as the living sovereign. Thus I tell you both, for posterity’s sake, that your father, King Hingaer, has succumbed to his age and passed on.”
That had been five long days ago. Five long days for Ingrid for she knew she had to answer her sons’ demands for their inheritance, and five long days for Aeron as he longed to learn what was in his father’s will. As a king, Hingaer had been clever and wise, knowing full well his sons’ ambitions and fearing for the stability of the kingdom he had worked so hard to preserve. When the late king ascended the throne as a youth, rebellions and treason abounded because of the uncertainty of how the new king would characterize his reign. His father, Hethrom, had been a tyrant and earned the people’s hatred. Hingaer worked against this policy in favor of moderation and compromise, eventually settling the realm and bringing peace to a country on the brink of war from two fronts: civil and with corsairs. The seagoing profligates threatened Illyria’s western and southern shores, focusing on the ports of Ithmaer to the west and Port Anon to the south.
Finally, after an agonizing period of time for Ingrid, she gathered the nobles and royal advisers in the throne room off the Great Hall. Flying buttresses climbed the cavernous ceilings, and tapestries depicting famous hunts, royals, and mythical places hung on the walls. Every so often a beeswax candle guttered in an iron sconce, throwing flickering shadows against the worn stones. The atmosphere was dim and melancholy; silence reigned. Any irregular noise was quickly stifled. Ingrid sat on her ancient throne, the crown of Illyria firmly upon her brow. Both symbols of the monarchy were as old as the country itself. It was little wonder that both were almost fragile to behold and much care was given to them.
The queen announced the court would go into official mourning for Hingaer for the space of a month. Then, at midsummer, Renault would be crowned as king. Until then, she would act as regent to assist with the transition of power. From her position on the Illyrian throne, Ingrid noted the glittering light of ambition in Renault’s dark eyes before he bowed his head in acknowledgement of her words. The month of mourning would be the calm before the storm, Ardyn had warned her before departing court on a personal errand. But for now, she had a funeral to plan.