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House games: Where Dragons fly and swords shimmer

June 8th, 2019

Welcome to a very real fantasy

Season 3: Episode 23/26

Violence and turmoil stalked the land. The old queen was not yet dead though she might as well have been. Her demise had been long, inglorious and inevitable, and yet that very inevitability gave her stubborn fight against it a redeeming air. It might have done little for her kingdom save stave off civil war for a few months but it had at least done that, as rival armies massed over the horizon – sometimes not even over the horizon.

With no natural heir, rival contenders circled each other warily within her realm too, uneasily aware that alliances were hard made and easily broken; that to engage in the contest was to make oneself too clearly a rival power should they fail and yet to not engage smacked of weakness. Better to demonstrate strength now and seek a deal later off the back of it than to repeat the fate of the now-banished Duke of Osbourne who the old queen had advised to ‘get to know the kingdom better’ after he’d declined to seek the crown he might so easily have worn had the first great War of Brecsit ended differently.

Yet if fear of a rival’s success from within the House were not enough, other Houses sought the throne too. Not that any of them were overwhelmingly powerful. The massed forces who gathered under the banner of the Red Rose were many, yet divided and under the leadership of a man more wizard than prince.

Endless had been the intrigues and yet still he led, having now outlasted two occupants of the Great Throne, protected by his courtiers and ready to make another bid for it himself.

Or her would be were it not that a power greater than any human – or any wizard – were at large. Men may seek the Throne; women too. But the War of Brecsit had unleashed a dragon which had no desire for such petty prizes: it sought nothing less than to control the soul of the kingdom. To gain true mastery meant not only subjugating rival Houses but slaying that dragon, for whilst it lived, no human could govern.

Yet how to kill it? The old queen had sought to appease the beast but whilst its appetite for silver was voracious, still it always demanded more. Much more. Demands which could not possibly be met despite her willingness – hence the poison in the 1922 claret which now ailed her.

Many in the House of Unio argued that the dragon must be confronted and slain, even if that took a second great war. Corbin was not yet moved though. The skirmish of Petricastra [see episode 22] had proven to him that he could fight on the ground of his own choosing and that others would be weakened by attrition over the summer. His own forces could still stand. Let the great gatherings of the Equinox determine the strategy for the decisive autumn battles, even if the cost of so doing was to let the dragon continue to run amok. Better to govern a scarred and scorched kingdom than not to govern at all.

But Unio was not alone in seeking the Great Throne. Suddenly, not one but two other armies sought the field, sensing the weakness and division in the Castle and the opportunities that gave. Remarkably, the House of Libertas – last seen routed in Season 1, when their erstwhile allies turned on them in a brutal, bloody but highly effective purge – was back, and back in strength. True, their prince too had been forced to abdicate but not before, perhaps more by luck than judgement, he had led them to exactly the right place at the right moment.

More extraordinary still was the reappearance of the Duke of Tusomnum, also last seen at the end of Season 1, who now rode his own dragon at the head of a new army. Although Petricaster had proven a defeat for him, it was a defeat that nonetheless showed both his hand and his strength.

For now though, both Libertas and Tusomnum had matters to attend to. They would join the epic battle for the kingdom but not until the Season finale. Before then, the Yellow army had a succession of its own to manage, while the Teal banner flew above a force that was comprised overwhelmingly of novices and which needed time to be trained.

And the Court? Riven by intrigue, division and dissent, there hung heavily an oppressive air over the internal power struggle: an uneasy sense that it might all be a fool’s prize. Earl de Feffel might well win out for now but what good would that do once the nights started to draw in, if he couldn’t unite his House and couldn’t defeat his rivals, never mind slay the dragon and heal the nation. That was truly a quest for heroes and whatever else de Feffel might be, few saw him as that.

He knew though that October would be the time. Inescapably, the pieces were all moving to ensure not just a Second Brecsit War then but also, so soon after his ascent, probably his downfall – unless he could pre-empt it by taking his rivals by surprise. Should he fail though, winter would come, for him and his House. Depending on the war’s outcome, possibly the kingdom too.

David Herdson (who has never watched Game of Thrones).