A Feast of Kings
It was on the first eve of winter when Prince Kòdobos thought to make peace with his rivals. He entreated them to attend a great feast at his castle. But many of his thanes opposed it, fearing the mighty number of foes he had invited to feast with him. But the prince was young and brash and was determined to cease the conflict in his realm even against the wisdom of his lords. And so, in his castle as fair as any ever known to Men, the guests were served choice meats, bread, wine, and ale as was meet to the palette of the stout warrior-kings of the land. Many a fair maiden, true of heart and pure, attended them at the bench with food, song, and cheer. There was glad feasting in the halls of Kòdobos, and his heart swelled to see his guests look upon him with favour as begat his goodwill and bounteous wealth. But Kòdobos did not know the night would end in strife when King Metzel, whom he had sworn allegiance to, became his enemy. The night grew long and no guest was left for want, yet Metzel’s eyes did not stray from Enolia. Long did she endure Metzel’s piercing gaze until she could bear it no longer. Then she said to her husband:
‘My lord, do you not see how King Metzel invites the guests to belittle me with lewd glares and demeaning speech? They say such things of me now that are ill fit for your ears to listen. With unceasing swears, they liken me to a love-vassal whose only worth is to appease the lust of men in shameful acts. Even now your lords stir in their seats with hands upon their swords to have at these debase kings who show you no honour. I ask you now to send me away to my chambers that I may not suffer any longer their abuse of me. I say this not to protect my honour, my husband, but rather yours.’
The prince’s heart was unsettled by his wife’s report. Yet, he did not speak for fear that, in his anger, he would incite his guests to do battle with him within his own castle. Kòdobos held firmly the hand of his wife so that his anger might be lessened. For a time, Metzel was content to merely draw his eyes over Enolia, envisioning her unclad. Feigning to be at ease, he kept his silence until the ire in his heart brimmed and he could hold back from speaking no longer. Thence, Metzel revealed his discontent of Kòdobos, accusing him of being a poor host not to let his wife dance afore his guests, as was meet of a host-lord in his hall. As Kòdobos was not ignorant to his foes’ lust of his wife, he sought not to incite them to contempt of him, thus keeping her beside him at all times, foregoing even the tradition of allowing the princess the honour of entertaining the guests. The guest-lords, however, did not refrain from filling the hall with a clamor as they, too, agreed that tradition should be respected lest the honour of the prince fail.
As Metzel had masterfully wrought evil against the prince by insulting his honour, Kòdobos consented to the demands of his guests. And so, at her husband’s charge, Enolia, fairest rose among the daughters of Men, stood up from her seat at the bench to dance to the strum of lutes and the hum of viols that began to play. Every eye in the hall was upon the princess as a young minstrel attended the song with his sonorous voice. A pair of young maidens spun beside Enolia with tambourines in hand, their raven black hair in a pirouette behind them. Such was the nature of Enolia’s dance that the guest-lords were roused to an evil lust of her, for her every movement was graced with the charm of an enchantress. No male in the hall was spared the spell of her dance. And the guest-lords’ yearning for the princess grew as they watched her white skin glisten in the glare of nearby torches like flaming ivory. Her golden tresses danced through the air on a wisp of winter breath blown suddenly into the hall. But for the prince’s wizard who sat at his side with eyes ever watchful, the quaint wind eluded the notice of everyone attending the feast. At whiles when the princess performed to the delight of the men in the room, the benches were made to tremor under their pounding fists.
Now it was when the unruly lords stood up from their seats to shout vulgarities to the princess, the wrath of Kòdobos was made to rise once more. And he turned his glower upon them, seeing more than casual observation in their eyes. Kòdobos noticed Metzel, most of all, leering intensely at Enolia, his mad desire of her raising him also from his seat. Such base words were uttered by him to insult the princess that it roused the lords near him to seize her. All who heard Enolia’s outcry was made to shudder. And the music ceased. Then the prince’s thanes and knights leapt up from their seats at the bench with their swords drawn. Kòdobos himself was stirred to anger and would have bolted towards Metzel’s throng with murderous intent, but for his lords who restrained him, lest in his wrath he caused the princess to be harmed.
But for a short while, the princess endured the guests’ rough fondling of her body to the ire of the prince and his lords. And the faces of the maidens in the hall grew sickly pale. Even the lords who had not come to make strife with the prince were repulsed by what they saw. And from the sobbing of the princess, the hearts of the prince and his men was kindled with a great fire. And it seemed that a great blood-letting would come to pass within the prince’s castle. But not long after the princess was made to suffer the shameful groping of her body, she was allowed to slip free from their grip. Long tears flowed down the princess’s eyes as she flew across the hall and was swept up into her husband’s arms. Finally, the words the prince had longed to say spewed forth from his mouth like rivers of flame from a dragon’s gaping maw:
‘Never afore has any lord suffered so great an insult as I have now. That you men—kings, and princes, and knights, would dare to enter my mother’s domain with such contempt of me that you would eat and drink with me under false oaths of friendship betrays your cowardice. Worse yet is that you should dare to lay hands upon her whom I love most in this world. That alone has earned every one of you a brigand’s death. That you would dare to strike at me with the knife in your left hand while I reach out to shake your right. I know no greater evil.’
‘Who is this boy that would dare hurl insults at men? Surely his mind is hot with beer that he might think he is a worthy lord like his late father!’ cried one of the lords attending the feast.
‘Aye. Who indeed is this boy come of a cur who thinks he might insult us this way?’ asked another of the lords.
‘I say we smite him good, the brat, that he might know what company is kept with him now!’ said one of Metzel’s lords. Finally, it was Metzel himself who let his voice rise above the loud raucous.
‘That woman you bear in your arms is as the food of the gods. That you should know her kindling embrace, a mere boy unworthy of such spoils, is the greatest insult to me as the gods above can devise.’
‘Of all the men in this room to stab at me with words, you alone, Metzel, I had thought of as nearly a father,’ said Kòdobos, prompting Metzel to make his brisk riposte:
‘I care nothing of such matters as kin, or kind, or old alliances when a great beauty that rivals the very sun is afore me for the ravishing.’
Then were the eyes of Kòdobos grown stark with rage as he clutched the hilt of his mighty sword Wúlgan crying aloud:
‘I will not give her up! Not Man, nor Beast, nor Elf, nor Demon borne hence of the netherworld with thongs of fire shall lay hold of my wife. Not if he had at his beckon all the powers of the gods or fell witches’ curse! No, not while I breathe the air of the living shall you do this thing.’
Metzel flew into a rage at Kòdobos’ words. He narrowed the distance between himself and the prince and cast his hateful gaze at the young fighter, the son of his erst ally.
‘You do not deserve such a prize, feisty brat of Krüge! For that woman you have claimed unto yourself has no peer in all the world. I dare not have it said that a boy should outmatch the high king even in matters of lust.’
‘Now it is become known that you are the inciter of this mob and do ill-justice to my charity here in my castle.’
‘Your charity is feigned, boy. You, who invite us here to this den of preening fools just so you could gloat over your precious princess; forcing us, men of fame and noble blood, to long for her. You, who are hardly more than a squire, let alone a prince, should know better than to try your elders. Or are you not yet a boy unproven in battle, unworthy of fame? I curse the man that you call father that he would bring into being progeny hardly worthy of even the least line of kings!’
‘Venom be your words, Metzel, High King, son of Metzer, to challenge me here in my mother’s castle. Be gone from them, now, or feel the cold bite of Wúlgan, blade of my father and edge of which cannot be quenched with ten hundred flagons of your people’s blood!’
‘Then let all here witness that it is you who challenge me, Prince, your guest, as you would have me suffer your ill manners as though I were the lowliest of peasants and not your better. But another outburst like that, boy, and I will snatch your woman from your arms and show you afore the watchful eyes of your entire court the virtue of your wife under my kingly embrace.’
The wrath of the prince soared to heights he had not heretofore known at Metzel’s threat against his wife. But for the princess who restrained Kòdobos from meeting Metzel with his famed sword in hand, battle would have erupted whence there was a feast.
‘King of dogs and blackest crows, my wife shall never lie with you or any other man here! I would first set your kingdoms in flames just to see them black as your covetous hearts! Be gone, the lot of you!’
‘Slay the boy-prince and take his bride!’ cried the foes of the prince as they stood angrily about their benches, to which young Kòdobos withdrew his sword. In turn, all the kings and princes and dukes and earls and marshals from beyond the borders of Kaldan drew their nicked swords from their sheaths and trained them on Kòdobos and his loyal thanes who rushed to his aid. A fight would have ensued in which the prince and his men, greatly outnumbered by the guests, might have been slain, had Metzel not claimed Enolia for himself forthright. Then did all the kings swear war with one another, all making oaths to butcher the other lord until no man stood betwixt them and Enolia. Thus the castle was made emptied of its guests and the cheer within it faded along with the fires that burned within to allow the cold of night to claim its high walls and forsaken benches.
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