Sunday, 11 September 2016

Stonesworn - Part 2

Following on from where part one ended, the next installment of Stonesworn continues to follow Benyar through his downward-spiraling day. Returning home from the humiliation served by the hands of King Boragsson, the young Dwarf protagonist discovers that things are only about to get worse for him and his fracturing clan-family...

The final part of Stonesworn will be released on Sunday the 18th of September

Benyar returned home long after the rest of his family, late into the night. Of course, he had no idea it was night-time, for the city of Khur-Karzana never slept. It was constantly lit by torches and fat braziers belching coal-light, and the air was always alive with the roar of industry: the hissing rumble of the forges, the clang-clanging of anvils, the cries and laughter of a thousand voices. Halfling-folk under the mountains slept when they needed to, not at night like the Men and Elves of the Upper World.
            Those he had passed had all steered well clear of his path. Hands had shot to mouths, Dwarf-women had whispered to the folk they walked with, whilst the Dwarf-men had glared at Benyar bitterly. ‘We don’t need the tall-folk,’ Benyar heard one gruff-looking, one-eyed Dwarf snarl as he passed. ‘They spend all their lives up there in the empty air – their heads are full o’ nothin’!’
            Has the entire city heard? Benyar thought as he went, his cheeks reddening in humiliation beneath his dark beard. He knew well he could no-longer stay in Khur-Karzana – maybe not even in one of the smaller settlements under the Syladras Mountains. He could hear names following him already: ‘Craven,’ one voice said. ‘It’s a grand job ‘is brother is nae a coward.’
            Benyar feared he would have to leave the Syladras Mountains altogether. Amongst the Syladrians, it was rare for a Dwarf or Gnome ever left their mountains to journey into the Upper World, and those that did were never welcome to return – unless given express permission by the king or another member of the Ironrend Covenant. Benyar had heard stories and rumours, though, that in other Dwarf-kingdoms it was becoming increasingly less taboo.
            As he stood outside the grand home in which he had grown up, Benyar felt only cold. The low, wide windows held no warming, promising glow of welcome, and the great wooden door was firmly sealed. The very mountain-stone into which the large home was carved, with its wide, flat walls and hefty support-columns, seemed to frown at him. Gripped with shame and heartbreak, Benyar sighed and slowly ascended the short flight of three stairs to the front of the house. I need to leave, he thought as he went. I’ll just grab a few o’ my things an’ I’ll leave the Syladras Mountains forever. I’ll make a new like wit’ the Tall Folk, away from ‘ere, from pryin’ eyes an’ whisperin’ tongues. Away from my brother and father. He placed his hand on the heavy wood of the door and pushed.
            It did not move. They’ve locked me out, Benyar thought, his eyes and mouth wide with shock. How dare they! This is as much my ‘ome as it is theirs! He raised a fist and banged heavily on the door, aware that those Halflings passing in the street behind him were staring. Everyone’s starin’. Everyone knows. Oh, the shame of it.
            No-one came. Not even Ermoldulus came to open the door for Benyar. For a few minutes, he stood, staring at the door in disbelief. Benyar thought about taking his grandfather’s hammer and smashing the door down – but he knew that causing such an aggressive scene in the streets would draw the attention of the guard. He really ‘as disowned me, Benyar thought to himself, suddenly overcome with shock and sorrow. He sank down to his knees, staring at the door in disbelief. His spirit was gone – he suddenly felt empty. Who am I if I’m nae a Volostag? he thought, completely at a loss.
            Then, fire burned in his belly. Quickly, Benyar scrambled to his feet and looked around, glancing up at the walls, windows and support-columns that made up the house front. This is a test, he thought to himself as he grabbed onto the lowest windowsill. He tucked his grandfather’s heavy hammer into the belt he wore. It was too large and hung awkwardly, catching the back of his knees at one end and beating his upper-back with the other. This is tha’ lousy ol’ Stone-forsaken prick o’ a father’s trial. He wants to see if I’ll give up. He wants to watch me fail. I ‘ave to get inside an’ prove I ain’t goin’ down without a fight!
            Benyar heaved himself up, climbing higher and higher up the front of his home, aware that Halflings in the street behind him were stopping to watch what he was doing. He wants to humiliate me in front o’ all these people – may the Stone swallow ‘im! Once I’ve left the mountains, I’ll never see ‘em again. He wants me to come in weepin’ and beggin’, but I won’t. I’ll stand tall an’ proud before ‘im, a true Volostag-…
            Benyar heaved himself up onto the next small ledge in the face of the stone house and suddenly became aware of raised voices from within. One was definitely his father’s, but the other was too quiet to properly make out. People in the street below were stopping and pointing up at him, calling out remarks and making it all the more difficult for him to hear what was going on. ‘Perhaps he thinks that if he climbs high enough, he’ll escape the mountain and be able to find his tall friends,’ Benyar heard a high-pitched Gnomish voice say. A chorus of low chuckles drifted up to him.
            Gritting his teeth, Benyar pulled himself up onto the ledge of the largest window in the front of his home. The window itself was an inch or so taller than he was, and was large and square, lined with criss-crossing lead that formed a diamond-shape pattern upon the glass. His grandfather’s hammer weighed heavily upon his back and for a moment he thought he would topple backwards and fall into the street. He managed to reach out and grab the windowpane before he fell, and peered in through the glass.
            Benyar eyed the scene through the single-glazed, leaded window. He pressed his face against the glass to better see the inside, for the criss-crossing lead lining upon the window distorted what was going on inside. Clearly, though, Benyar could identify the two figures: one was his father, Thane Thored; the other was his brother, Gorgrim. They stood in the wide and long chamber in which the thane and his wife slept. It was a grand room, with carved-wood bookcases up against the wall, and a deep, wide bed at the far end. A great many hunting trophies and animal skulls from forays against the goblins and hunts in the depths of the mines were decked upon the walls, and dead, empty eye-sockets stared down at the two quarrelling Dwarf men below.
            Benyar knew that his arguing family members could not see him, for they were both standing in a corner of the room close to where the wide bed was. Gorgrim was still in his battered armour and had his sword at his hip, though Thane Thored had changed into a dark brown doublet and some heavy, leather trousers. Both men were yelling at one-another, and Benyar pressed himself against the glass of the window to try and hear. Below, the Halfings in the street were watching him, though most seemed to have lost interest and had wandered off, back about their own business.
            ‘This is as much your own fault as Benyar’s!’ Thane Thored roared at his younger son. ‘Ye were supposed to come back wit’ gold! Wit’ jewels! Instead, ye brought back tha’ accursed weapon and reminded the entirity of Khur-Karzana, the Ironrend Covenant, and the ploughin’ king ‘imself that we’ve ‘ad a Stonesworn in our family!’
            ‘There was nothin’ down there!’ Gorgrim yelled back, taking off his ruined helmet and hurling it across the bedroom. ‘Skeletons and shadows – no gold, no jewels, nothin’.’
            ‘If there was nothin’ down there, then wha’ killed yer comrades, hm?’ Thane Thored growled, folding his arms across his big chest.
            Benyar watched as Gorgrim turned away and placed both his hands on a low writing-desk beside the bed. For a moment, he said nothing, but Benyar could see him fiddling with the quills, letter-opening knives, and sheets of parchment left there.
            Eventually, he spoke. ‘We travelled down into the Pits for two weeks, hammerin’ the goblins, trolls, and whatever other nonsense we found. Then, we ‘appened across this dark passageway tha’ didn’t show on any o’ the maps. It looked ancient though, far older than anythin’ else in the Pits. Thinkin’ it was a chance at long-lost and forsaken treasure, we all ‘eaded down there an’ into the dark.’
Gorgrim paused for a moment, biting his lip nervously. ‘Then things started to ‘appen,’ he said in a voice so quiet that Benyar almost couldn’t hear. The eldest Volostag son pressed himself harder against the glass to try and make out what was being said. ‘Bylar started ‘avin’ nightmares, and could say nowt but “they’re comin’” when he was wakin’. Then we ‘appened across this ancient cache of ol’-lookin’ weapons. Most of ‘em were too dusty an’ useless, but there was this one sword tha’ we gave to Yldr as ‘is ‘ammer ‘ad shattered on the ‘ead of a particularly large cavern-warg.’
‘Then wha’?’ Thane Thored demanded.
Benyar watched as Gorgrim lifted his exhausted eyes to his father. ‘Then, he began to lose ‘is mind as well. Said the weapon was tellin’ ‘im to do things, makin’ ‘im think dark thoughts. We awoke one night to find ‘im hackin’ apart Esmelda.’
Benyar’s eyes widened as he listened at the window, and he saw his father step back away from his son in shock. Gorgrim continued. ‘Then, on the thirtieth day, figures appeared. I don’t know wha’ they were,’ he said quietly. ‘Shadowy Men, I think – I couldn’t be sure. They fell upon us from the darkness and tore us apart. I was the only one who managed to get away.’
There was a moment of silence from inside the room. Eventually, Thane Thored spoke. ‘An’ yet ye ran from ‘em? From these Men-like creatures instead o’ standin’ an’ fightin’ ‘em?’
Gorgrim whirled, his fists locked. ‘Wha’ was I to do?’ he yelled. ‘Die? They were too strong! They were too good!’
‘Pah!’ Thored snorted. ‘Ye sound like tha’ stutterin’ fool Benyar. Men-like creatures? Stronger than us Dwarves? ‘Ave ye gone mad?’
‘They slaughtered us all!’ Gorgrim cried. ‘They butchered us like animals!’
‘Then you should’ve fought ‘arder!’ Thane Thored roared at his son. ‘Because all you managed to drag back from the Pits was tha’ festerin’ hammer, and because o’ Benyar flappin’ on about ‘ow we need the Vidorian Empire an’ the soldiers o’ the Free Kingdoms to ‘elp us with all our deeds, the Volostag house-clan are honourless. We will never be upon the Ironrend Covenant, and I will never be king!’
There was a flash of shining steel. Benyar watched in horror as Gorgrim opened his fist – in his right hand he held one of the long, devilishly sharp letter-openers from the writing desk. Benyar threw all his weight into the window and it shattered. He fell into the room, landing heavily upon the broken glass and the stones beyond. He looked up – too late – to see his father lying on the stone floor beside him. His eyes were wide and surprised and his mouth hung open. The long, iron-grey hair about his head was slowly being stained dark red by the blood pumping from the wound to his temple – in which the small, steel letter-opener was buried.
Benyar staggered to his feet and looked at his brother, who was standing over his father’s body with wide eyes and a face twisted in anger. His fists were clenched and held before him as if he were about to punch someone, and his chest rose and fell heavily as he took shallow, fast breaths. ‘Gorgrim,’ Benyar said in a whisper, ‘wha’ ‘ave ye done?’
Gorgrim looked up, and for a moment he looked as if he were about to collapse – his eyes seemed to glaze with tears, and his face twitched with, what Benyar thought, was sorrow. ‘I’m sorry, Ben,’ he said quietly. ‘I’m so sorry.’
Benyar shook his head and took a step back towards the window. ‘Why?’ he said in a breath. ‘He was an ol’ fool, but-…’ Words failed Benyar and he held a hand out to Gorgrim, gesturing between him and the corpse of their father.
‘I’m sorry,’ Gorgrim said. ‘Really, I am.’
Suddenly, the youngest Volostag son leapt forwards and grabbed hold of Benyar’s hand in both of his own. Benyar looked down at Gorgrim’s bloody hands, and now his own blood-smeared fist. ‘Gorgrim, no…’ he said in a breath.
‘Murderer!’ Gorgrim cried, shoving Benyar as hard as he could in the chest. ‘You killed him! You killed Father!’
Benyar tried to draw his sword but Gorgrim was too fast. Blow after blow rained down on his head and face, and soon the young Dwarf was staggering around the room, doing the best he could to keep his head protected by lifting his hands to cover his face. Gorgrim kept yelling all the while: ‘Murderer! Killer! Traitor! Treason! Treason!’
And then he was back at the shattered window. Before he could help himself, Benyar found himself gripping at the frame, trying not to let Gorgrim push him out. He could hear cries from the street below – the crowd that had watched him clamber up the face of his home and break through the window were now crying out for the guards and watching what was taking place some twenty feet up the face of the Volostag residence. ‘I knew ‘ee was a bad-‘un!’ someone was yelling from below. ‘I knew it, I told ye!’
Glancing over his shoulder, only now did Benyar truly appreciate the dizzying drop down onto the cavern-street below. There were some thirty Halflings there, Dwarf-folk and Gnomes, all watching what was going on. ‘Gorgrim, please,’ Benyar choked as his brother placed both his hands on his chest and began to force him out of the window. ‘Please, don’t do this.’
The crowd below gasped and shrieked as Benyar began to slip, too dazed and weary to fight off his furious brother. He gripped the broken window-frame with all his might, broken glass cutting his palms and the backs of his legs as he was pushed further and further back. He could hear footsteps on the stairs, heavy and fast – his mother, for Ermoldulus glided silently everywhere. If I can jus’ ‘ang on a little longer…
‘I’m sorry, brother,’ Gorgrim said in a whisper. Benyar looked into his brother’s dark eyes, ringed with great grey spheres. His black beard was frizzy and wiry, flecked with blood and tatty, as if it had been pulled out in places. His face had changed – there was a tightness in it he had never seen before. There was a twitch in his eye, and line at the corner of his mouth. He’s insane, Benyar thought. He’s lost his mind in the Pits.
A shard of glass snapped and buried itself deep into Benyar’s hand. He cried out and instinctively let go of the frame. In that moment, Gorgrim pushed into Benyar’s chest with all his might. Benyar felt himself slip and desperately tried to grab back onto the window frame, but it was too late. Before he could even cry out, he was falling. He could feel the warm air of Khur-Karzana whipping past him as he plunged downwards. Gorgrim, ye bastard, Benyar thought as he fell. Ye mad bastard.
He crashed into the street, and the world went cold.


Benyar had always wondered what it was like inside the High Chamber. He had dreamed of being able to walk around the great, wide space and look at the detail wrought into the great, high pillars and many gold-plated statues of kings that could stand between them. He had wondered where the Covenant sat – at benches or a table? On individual seats or on a large, amphitheatre-like pew?
            There were fewer statues than he had imagines in the great, wide, circular space, though around the edge of the room there was a ring of carved columns. The walls were decorated in a fashion he had expected: a great carved mural depicting the story of the Ironrend Covenant, from King Borag Ironrend leading the other clans to the Syladras Mountains some two-thousand years ago, up to the establishment of the Covenant itself under his son, King Boragsson I. The rest of the available space upon the circular walls was filled in with dramatic pictures telling of old tales – wars with Elves, Dwarves slaying dragons and so-on. Benyar had been surprised to see a little of the wall was even given over to Gnomish feats of heroism. He recognised Gifu, the she-Gnome of legend who had ridden a mule into battle alone against one-thousand goblins.
            ‘The charges laid against you are as follows:’ Thane Barras Stoneshaper said, reading from the small scroll before him, ‘breaking an’ entry into the home of the Volostag house-clan, and the murder of Thane Thored Volostag, as well as the spread of treasonous talk throughout city of Khur-Karzana. ‘Ave ye any last words to say in your defence?’
            An hour before, Benyar had been dragged from his cell in the Durhzal Dungeons, stripped to the waist and barefoot, then made to march through the streets in chains. He had been pelted with rotted fruit, stones, even copper coins, as everyone had made an effort to shame and humiliate the man convicted of the murder of one of the Syladrian Halflings’ best-known thanes.
            He had been escorted into the High Chamber and made to kneel before King Boragsson II and the Ironrend Covenant. The king, who sat in an enormous throne of stone and gold, the back of which reached twenty feet into the air and was inscribed with the words ‘Whoever shall sit here, may the weight of the Stone keep him forever humble,’ had not said a word throughout Benyar’s brief trial. However, the eleven other individuals sat either side of him on smaller stone seats had brought forth countless witnesses.
The house-clan patriarchs who had seats upon the Ironrend Covenant had plucked from the streets every single person who had been outside the Volostag residence that fateful night. Dwarf men and women, as well as a few Gnomes, had all testified as to how they had seen him break into the home of the man who had disowned him before the High Chamber the previous day.
‘He seemed furious,’ one old Dwarf with a patchy beard and balding head had said. ‘Muttering and cursing t’ ‘imself as ‘ee went. All covered in weapons, too. Seems clear ‘nuff t’ me wha’ ‘ee were plannin’.’
‘Smashed the window in with his fists, he did,’ a young Dwarf-woman with a short, boyish haircut said. ‘My Nancee and I saw it all from the street. If we’d known that he was plannin’ to do ‘is father one, we’d’a clambered up there and tossed ‘im down from the window ourselves!’
Benyar felt like the entire world’s enemy. He knelt at the foot of the throne in the circular chamber for hours whilst the golden flames thrown up by the huge, deep fire pit in the middle of the room spat eerie shadows out across the walls. Dozens of people came, called him a murderer, and left again. Even Gorgrim had appeared. He had shown no remorse and had lied through his teeth, calling Benyar a crazed, bitter psychopath and describing the attack he had committed as if it were all Benyar’s doing. When he had tried to protest his younger brother’s words, Benyar had been punched in the mouth by the surly Ironrender standing beside him.
‘I ask you again, Benyar, have ye anything to say in your defence?’
‘I didn’t do it,’ he said in a low whisper. ‘It was Gorgrim.’
The patriarchs who made up the Ironrend Covenant and the king himself all sighed and rolled their eyes. ‘Very well,’ Thane Stoneshaper said with a roll of his dark eyes and a pat of his long beard, ‘King Boragsson II and the Ironrend Covenant understand that is what took place yesterday night: bitter following your father’s disownment of you and the recognition you would never sit upon the Ironrend Covenant or inherit your father’s titles, you returned to the Volostag family residence – where ye were no-longer welcome. When this was made clear to ye, ye decided to try an’ break into the building. This ye did by climbin’ the face o’ the home an’ breakin’ the window tha’ led into yer father’s quarters. Ye found ‘im there, alone and upset followin’ an argument he’d just ‘ad with ‘is son and heir, Thane Gorgrim Volostag. Ye seized yer opportunity an’ stabbed ‘im with a letter-opener.
‘When Gorgrim, who ‘ad stormed out the room to get away from ‘is father, ‘eard the upset, he re-entered an’ found ye standin’ o’er the body o’ the late Thane Thored Volostag. The two of ye fought after ye made to attack Thane Gorgrim, as ye were jealous of ‘is success down in the Pits, an’ Gorgrim managed to throw ye out the very window through which ye entered,’ Thane Stoneshaper concluded. ‘I’ll ask ye one final time – how d’ya plead?’
Broken, Benyar shook his head. ‘Not guilty,’ he said. ‘I never liked Da, but I’d never hurt the man. Never.’
‘Aye, so ‘is mother said,’ Thane Gorr Magmapael called from where he sat beside King Boragsson II. The short, fat Dwarf with a large ginger beard and a heavy brow had sharp, glinting eyes that saw everything and exploited all details – he was the only member of the Covenant who had spoken a word in Benyar’s favour. ‘Ye cannae discount tha’, ‘is mother knows ‘im better than any o’ us. Wha’ if Gorgrim’s lyin’?’
‘Yet we’ve ‘eard she did not arrive until after Benyar had been tossed from the window by Thane Volostag,’ Thane Neyti Norren, a frightening-faced, silver-haired Dwarf-woman with arms like ancient tree-trunk snarled. ‘We cannae simply use ‘er assumption tha’ Benyar’s innocent when all the signs point to his guilt.’
‘Come, Gorr,’ Thane Brach Antillus said from beneath his staggeringly enormous blonde beard, ‘ye ‘ave to admit tha’ the simple weight o’ testimony against the defendant is enough to prove ‘is guilt. Besides – why would Gorgrim murder ‘is own father? Folk saw ‘em together jus’ a few hours before, right outside these doors!’
Thane Magmapael sighed and fell silent, shaking his head in disagreement. ‘I don’t like it,’ he said. ‘Somethin’ is fishy ‘bout all this.’
In the pause that followed, Benyar became resigned to his fate. One-hundred years in the Durhzal Dungeons, he thought. Tha’ or it’ll be the axe. Benyar was unsure which he would prefer. At least there’s a small chance o’ escape from Durhzal.
‘I’ve ‘eard enough,’ King Boragsson’s voice rocked the chamber, rumbling and powerful. The silence seemed to get quieter in the wake of the powerful Dwarf’s booming echo of speech. Benyar lifted his eyes to look at the resplendent Dwarf, with his thick white beard and enormous golden crown of office. ‘I am ready to pass judgement ‘avin’ listened to the advice of the Ironrend Covenant.’
The wrinkled, balding Gnomish scribe sitting just behind the king’s throne, so deep in shadow Benyar had not seen him, rose to his feet and passed the king a long roll of parchment – the proceedings from the trial. King Boragsson II barely so much as glanced at the Man-sized piece of parchment before handing it back to the scribe. He fixed his cold, hard gaze on Benyar and spoke again: ‘Benyar, formerly o’ the Volostag house-clan, disowned son o’ the late Thane Thored Thored Volostag an’ ‘is wife, Lady Amelie, an’ former brother of Thane Gorgrim Volostag; I find ye guilty on account of all the crimes ye ‘ave committed. In the five-hundred and ninety-ninth year o’ the Bright Epoch of the Dwarf and Gnome-folk, on the day your brother, Gorgrim, returned from the Pits – the first soul to do so in many years – out of anger and jealously, ye murdered your father, Thane Thored.
‘Bitter that ye had been disowned for your beliefs – that the Halfling-folk should seek the ‘elp of Men in their battles with the goblins of the Below, itself treasonous and slanderous talk – ye struck out against the man who ‘ad formerly been yer father an’ killed ‘im. Ye were caught in the act by your brother, Thane Gorgrim, who fought ye off and drove ye from the Volostag house-clan home.’
There was a pause again as King Boragsson II eyed Benyar up and down. Beside him, Thane Gorr Magmapael shook his large, ginger-haired head slowly and played with the cuff of his expensive red robe. The rest of the Ironrend Covenant gazed at Benyar down the lengths of their noses, waiting for the king to pass sentence upon Benyar.
At last, the king spoke again. ‘This feud that ‘as led to the death of a famed and well-loved thane was brought about through jealousy an’ spite. I think it only fittin’ that we see whether or nae ye are ‘alf the Dwarf that Thane Gorgrim is.’ Boragsson glared down from where he stood before his throne. Benyar dropped his dark-haired and bearded head, looking at the intricately mosaicked floor.
For a moment, there was complete silence. Only the far-off rumble of the river of molten rock flowing beneath the High Chamber filled the air, as all those present looked at one another, waiting with bated breath to see what the king would say next. Then, King Boragsson stepped forwards and stood as straight and proud as he could, his white beard gleaming and shining in the brazier-light.
Bring forth the Heartstone!’ the king yelled at the top of his lungs.
Benyar felt the colour drain from his face and for a few moments he thought his heart had stopped beating. In silent shock he knelt, stipped to the wait in the middle of the High Chamber, staring wide-eyed at the king. ‘My king, ye cannae mean to-…’
‘Silence,’ King Boragsson II commanded. ‘This is your punishment.’
From the shadows came four Ironrenders. The heavy metal boots about their feet clanked upon the stone as they crossed towards Benyar. Between them, upon a great golden plinth, they held a huge, dark hunk of black obsidian. It was the size of a Dwarf, and had been left uncut and undecorated. Its edges glinted translucent purple in the light thrown up by the huge fire pit behind Benyar; shadowy, dark and ominous.
‘This stone was found in the middle o’ this cavern when it was dug out two-thousand years ago, back in the First Epoch, and ‘as forever since been known as the Heartstone,’ King Boragsson II said from where he stood by his throne. ‘It is what we Halflings are: strong, enduring, tempered, yet beautiful and powerful. Place your hand upon it, Benyar the Outcast.’
The huge lump of black stone was placed down before Benyar by the four Ironrenders. With tears in his eyes, Benyar reached forward with his shackled hands and placed them both upon the warm surface of the dark, glass-like rock.
            ‘Repeat after me,’ King Boragsson II said. ‘I am Benyar, and I ‘ave wronged my people.’
            Benyar swallowed. His lips trembled and his tongue felt heavy in his mouth. ‘I am Benyar,’ he said in little more than a whisper, ‘and I ‘ave wronged my people.’
            ‘With this oath I aim to set right, through glory, what harm I ‘ave done to the Halflings,’ King Boragsson continued as soon as Benyar finished.
            ‘Through this oath I aim to set right, through glory, what harm I ‘ave done to the Halflings.’
            ‘Never will I return…’
            ‘Never…’ Benyar choked back a sob. ‘Never will I return…’
            ‘Unless I bear a glory for my people tha’ is greater in magnitude than the crimes I committed against them, taken from the darkest, most foul places in the Stone itself.’
Tears pouring down his face and hands trembling, Benyar continued. ‘Unless I bear a glory for my people tha’ is greater in magnitude than the crimes I committed against them, taken from the darkest, most foul places in the Stone itself.’
‘By the Heartstone, my life is forfeit. From this day until the day I return, I am dead. May the Stone take my remains,’ King Boragsson II continued, unfazed and undaunted by Benyar’s tears.
 ‘By the Heartstone,’ Benyar said through wracking sobs, ‘my life is forfeit. From this day until the day I return, I am dead. May the Stone take my remains.’
King Boragsson II raised his noble head and its weighty crown high and looked down upon Benyar. ‘I am Stonesworn,’ he said.
Benyar clamped his eyes and mouth shut for a few moments, taking several quick, shallow breaths as he tried to control himself. He could feel every single person in the High Chamber waiting for him to speak, waiting for him to condemn himself to death. He could feel the ice-cold gaze of the king upon him, and the unwelcoming eyes of the Ironrend Covenant boring into him.
He had no choice. He had to say it. He would only make it worse for himself if he protested or fought back. They might just kill me now, he thought as he screwed his eyes shut even harder. They may just save whatever monsters are lurkin’ down there in the Pits the job.
But then Benyar thought of his younger brother. He thought of the betrayal that had led him here. No, Benyar told himself. I will do this, an’ then I will return. An’ when I do, I’ll prove it was Gorgrim who did this. I’ll show them all ‘ow wrong they were-…
‘Benyar,’ the king’s stern voice broke into his thoughts. ‘Say the last line now.’
Benyar looked up and straight into King Boragsson’s eyes. Blinking the way the last of his tears, he let his anger and hate boil inside of him until he was gripping the obsidian hard enough to turn his large knuckles white. He ground his teeth together and clenched his jaw, readying himself to say the final line of his oath.
‘I am Stonesworn.’

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