The messenger from the King handed me a message tube sealed with the kings own seal. I took it and told Mya to pay him. The messenger then told me that he also had a message for all nobles that the Spring Feast would begin in three days. It would last for two weeks so one could come in and out during that time to enjoy the feast. It was getting late and we were only a day out of Ragnar so I told the men to stop and camp for the night.
Once my tent was set up I crawled inside and opened the tube. In it was two pages of vellum scroll. The king had written with his own hand and had not used a scribe which indicated the secrecy of this message. I read it and when I was finished my heart was beating a little faster.
The king told me that it was a priority for me to attend the feast and be sociable. There were internal problems despite the twenty years of peace and he knew that the peace was going to not last much longer. His northern border where we had been campaigning was beginning to see more activity by the enemy on the other side of no man’s land. There were also raids by unknown forces to the west. He urged me to do two main things. One I need to get my warband up to the strength of fifty men before I marched into the city. He told me not to worry about expense as he would bear it without cost to me. Secondly he wanted me to be ready to swear an oath of loyalty to him publicly at the feast. and thus be able to take my place at his side as his niece. There was a final instruction to burn this message thoroughly.
I pondered the meaning of this message. I could see that my uncle the king of the Nordic Kingdom needed my strength. All around were the signs of a weakening kingdom under his guidance but in part that had been due to my father’s departure. My uncle had one great strength as king and that was to recognize those who had more ability than him and put them into power or position to use their talents to benefit his kingdom. He was going to do that with me as he saw the same spark in me that he saw in my father. It was a good move for him, but was it a good move for me? I mean my ambitions were to rise in power to be sure but how high could I rise?
My father believed that someday I would be Queen of the whole island continent. A second Queen Sophia was his thoughts and wouldn’t the first step be to rise in power in one of the six kingdoms of the land? After that it would all be matter of conquest. The place I would need the least amount of armed force to do this was the Nordic Kingdom because I was already royalty.
The real practical issue was could I raise thirty more men before I marched triumphantly into the city of Ragnar. I knew what my uncle was aiming at. It was a show of strength that would give his enemies pause when that strength seen to swear loyalty to him. How to do it was the question. I could just have raw recruits either, these needed to be battle tested Nordic infantry with chain mail, shields and axes.
I got up and went to my fire and burned the message and the tube it came in. I then called for Mya and Oluf for council. I explained the problem to both of them and they both however disagreed with me that this would be a difficult task. Oluf explained that they were close enough to the city that the villages around it would be teaming with mercenaries and ex-soldiers who had hung up their gear to try to scratch out an existence from farming, ranching or whatever. The trick was to beat the drum to get them to join up gear in hand. Oluf felt confident.
“My lady, I have had to turn down ten such men who wanted to join you because you only wanted twenty. Truth is the Banner of Rosenhall being unfurled has caused the hearts of men to sing again. Beat the drum in the next town and I am sure you will have your men.”, he said.
I went to sleep with this in my mind and so the next morning we arrived at the last village before Ragnar. I beat the drum and announced that there was a place for thirty more hardened warriors to fight under the Banner of the Rose. In amazement I watched as one after another men showed up and signed the name to my ledger. In four hours I had my fifty men. I shook my head in disbelief.
“It’s the banner, my lady. The stories of old call the men, but it is you that also call them now”, Oluf smiled.
We drilled outside the village for a day to make sure all of them knew how to march together. It was actually an awe-inspiring sight. I talked to Oluf and he agreed to disband his mercenary band and simply be part of my warband. He and his brother and the other nine men swore fealty to me like the other forty. Oluf became my captain.
The next morning we marched toward Ragnar. I had picked up, wanted or not, several new camp followers. There were about five of them who were either wives of some of my men or simply attracted to the possibility of marching with The Men of the Rose for various reasons. They walked behind the wagon. Soon we saw the city gates and marched toward them. Without challenge they opened up for us and we marched inside. I lead on my horse with Mya beside me holding my banner. Behind Mya and me, Oluf was leading my men who were marching five wide and ten deep. As we cleared the gate we became aware that a crowd was gathering on both sides and soon shouts of “The Rose” and “Rosenhall” filled the streets. We had left in silence but had returned in triumph. Now the only questions was whether or not it would lead to some political gain for my uncle and myself.