Prologue
Taking the Reins

AN 1211 (AZ 1448) - Spring
Girondin, Notos

Nearly two years had passed since his father's capture and apparent death. The Promethean Alliance continued in its struggle against the occupation, but their attacks were mere pinpricks to the bloated Zephyrian beast. The time had come to step up the campaign.
Rowland walked down into the basement or the Wallowing Sow, one of Girondin's sleaziest taverns and an ideal hideout for the Alliance's meetings. Ricchar, his father's top lieutenant, was discussing strategy with the others when he walked in. Ricchar tried to ignore him, but Rowland did not come to be ignored. Drawing his family's treasured sword Durandal, he sank the blade in the table they were gathered around with an overhead chop.
"What the hell's wrong with you, boy!?" Ricchar exclaimed.
Rowland grinned and told them, "Alright, boys, you've had your fun. Now it's time for the revolt to start for real."
"What are you talking about, you damned fool!?" Ricchar barked. "What in the seven hells d'you think we've been doing all this time!?"
"What do you think you've been doing all this time?" Rowland asked in turn. "Nothing will change at this rate. The Alliance needs a real leader to guide it."
"The Alliance has a real leader: me," Ricchar said, pounding his chest to emphasize the point. Squaring off against Rowland, he then asked, "Or do you think a whelp like you can do a better job?"
Rowland lifted his blade and rested it on his shoulder. He looked at the man who was called his father's right hand. He was too small a man for the great task before them. The answer was clear. Did Rowland think he could do a better job at leading the Alliance to its true glory?
"I do," he said bluntly.
Rowland looked around at the others, some contemptuous, some disbelieving, but none geared for a fight. Still, he needed to push them first to be sure.
"Do any of you want to challenge me for it?" he demanded. "Do any of you think you have a right to it? I'm the one who inherited the sword Durandal and with it, the Alliance. I gave you this time while I traveled all over our land and learned the ways of the enemy.
"I've watched how the occupiers work, how the people treat with them and are treated by them. I haven't spent my days hiding in burrows underground like the rest of you, like moles, like worms. If we want freedom from our oppressors, we must strike out with boldness, with ferocity unlike anything they have ever known."
Total silence was the only reply he got. His grin returned. The Alliance was in his hands now. No one would dare to defy him openly and he was confident he could outwit anyone who thought to thwart him by underhanded craft and trickery.
"You're all dismissed for now," he said. "We'll meet back here before dawn in two days' time."
"What do you expect us to do until then?" Ricchar asked.
"Keep your eyes open," Rowland said. "You might learn something."
Rowland turned away and left them. He wanted them to stew a bit before he set his plans into motions. Those who came to grips with his leadership would do well. Those who did not would die.
As soon as he exited the tavern, his servant Simona hurried to his side. As always when she went outside, she wrapped herself in a hooded cloak to hide her true identity. There was no love for the nonhumans in Notos, especially not for a Black Xotika who came to Notos with the Darklander invasion three hundred years ago.
"How did it go?" she asked.
"They'll accept the new order," he replied, "or they'll die."
"How many are you willing to kill?"
"However many stand in my way. "
She did not say anything more. She knew he was serious. Unlike everyone else, he did not have to go to any great lengths to explain himself to her.
He rested his hand on the hilt of his sword. With Durandal in hand, he would reverse the fate of the nation. The occupiers would soon wish they had never come to Notos.