Though he tried to get a handle on his seething anger, his hatred, his disappointment, Ulrich found it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand. He knew that his sons must meet punishment. He knew that he would have to deal with their insubordination, but he found the task tiring. He did not want to deal with his sons, their arrogance reminding him forcibily of Gaelan, someone who truly wished to push from his mind. Dwelling on the tension with his hated brother did nothing to help calm his frayed nerves or boiling anger. He stopped, standing in the center of the lavishly appointed hallway that led to the Great Hall, arms rigid at his sides, his armored fists clenching tight enought that he heard the steel squeal and creak under the strain. It was too much, he wanted to howl at the dread moon Moorsleib, scream out his rage to the world. To vent it into the air where he would no longer have to feel it, though he knew that that release would never come. He would never be free of the anger that gripped his undead heart, the blistering rage that consumed the dark center of his blackened soul. His eyes pinched shut, his breath coming in ragged gasps as he wrestled with his daemons, fought the monster within that threatened to overwhelm him.
As his eyes slowly opened, his breathing calmed, it was obvious that this time, he had won out over the berzerk fury that swam within him. This time he had won the battle, but the war was ongoing, an ever present struggle to maintain himself. A never ending trial against the frenzied madness the dwelt within him. Ponderously, he lifted a foot, shuffling to get himself moving, his limbs felt infused with lead. Each step forward, each small movement brought him futher under his own control, the engulfing darkness at the corners of his vision slowly receeding with every inch he covered. For the time being, he was himself. For the time being, he had not fallen into the grips of the fury that consumed his brother Tyreal.
As he moved onward, his pace measured, his movements deliberate, he took in the hallway around him, focusing on the reality of the items displayed on plinths, hanging on walls, and resting in elegant cases. All trophies, all items that held memories of his father's conquests, all things that spoke to the untarnished glory of the Von Drakenblood house. These pieces soothed Ulrich, centered him in a place that felt comfortable, reminded him of his purpose, his position as Mordred's right hand, the callous blade wielded by the master tactician. A flickering of the torches, a moment of shadow, caught his attention. The whisp of a scent, the soft scrape of an armored boot on the thick carpet at his feet the only signs that someone was with him. Ulrich smiled, his body relaxed, the tension held in his sword arm vanishing faster than it had gathered.
He followed the line of the silver guantleted arm that rested on his shoulder and took in the etheral visage of his brother. Heinrick stood, stillness embodied, his crimson eyes boring a hole into Ulrich's mind. A sense that his favorite brother knew what troubled him, caused Ulrich to shake his head, a small fluttering smile twitching at the corners of his mouth as he stood unsurprised by that fact. Heinrick knew him better than anyone, more than likely more than Ulrich understood himself. “You should not blame them for wishing to test their skills against Natasha, Brother. Arrogance is often the undoing of the would-be victor," Heinricks steady baritone voice, soothing to Ulrich's ears, washed over him. Though his brother spoke, Ulrich could not help but get the feeling that the words were someone elses. The ring of his father's wisdom danced within the crisp syllabels of Heinrick's statment, a nugget of truth about not only the circumstance that the statment addressed, but buried within the words a sense of the man who first spoke them. An easy silence, a moment of communion with the other, hung between them, before Heinrick turned, moving toward the Great Hall, beckoning Ulrich to follow, "Walk with me for awhile brother, I get the feeling you wish to talk about the things that have happened, especially with our father."
His gaze ahead, Ulrich walked at Heinrick's side for some time before speaking. Finally, the issue at the very front of his mind, the one that weighed on his thoughts demanded to be discussed. "It does not sit well with me that they have defied my wishes, brother," Ulrich began, returning to the statement Heinrick had made aout his gets. "Regardless of their intent, they should know their place and keep to it. You see what arrogance has wrought in our dear brother Gaelan." The spark of anger that flared at his brother's name, caused Ulrich to wince, he must learn to control that anger. He must learn to suppress the reaction that inevitably followed discussion of his brother.
"That is true brother yet you need to remember when you and Gaelen were that young you were rash and believed you knew best," Heinrick said in counter-point. Ulrich wished he could deny it. He wished he could snap out at Heinrick, assert that he was mistaken, but he knew better. There had once been a time that Ulrich had not acted much different than the gets he know went to chastise.
Sighing, pinching the bridge of his nose with an armored hand, Ulrich relented the point, "I suppose, there is truth in that. What would he have me do, let this incident go with out notice? Should I turn away, the defeat at Natasha's hand serving as punishment enough?" He left the question hang, his desire for advice evident despite the fact that his pride would not let him ask for it directly.
"They are your sons, Brother," Heinrick said with a shrug, "It is your choice in how you deal with them, but I would suggest you deal with them. Our brother Gaelen will no doubt take the physical route to punish them." As he spoke, Heinrick stopped in mid-stride, and turned ot his left. Reaching out fondly, he re-adjust the picture of mother and father that hung there, straigtening the edge and brushing some of the fine dust from a top its frame.
"Of that I have no doubt Heinrick and he calls me the brute," Ulrich scoffed. "Perhaps their ordeal is punishment enough. Despite the fact that I respect Natasha's skill, they must be brooding that not only were they beaten by a Lahmain, they could not best her even when they stacked the odds in their favor."A poorly concealed smile and a flash of pride flashed across Ulrich's brooding face. His pride in his sister's accomplishments, a strong contrast to the disappointment that welled at the thought of his own children's actions.
As Hienrick finished adjusting the painting, he stepped back, admiration and adoration clear in his expression as he gazed upon the Lord and Lady Von Drakenblood, before he stepped back into stride with Ulrich and continued on down the hall. "You seem to forget who it was that trained that Lahmian, Ulric. Her skill with a blade surpasses even yours and Gaelens," he said, the non-challance in his voice a sudden irration to Ulrich.
"I do remember," Ulrich snapped, before quickly regainin his composure, "But it seems it was a fact that my children neglected to take into account."
"There are other things on your mind than just your children not knowing their limits," Heinrick probed, his gaze locked on the side of Ulrich's head, his own head cocked to the side, a searching, expectant expression dominating his aqualine features.
"Am I that transparent?" Ulrich chuckled, the question rhetorical though he knew it was one that Heinrick, out of habit, would answer.
"Are you getting forgetful in your old age brother? I have spent the over three hundred years by yourside so to me your every thought is etched on your face for the world to see."
Ulrich waved his hand with a resigned sigh, "You had known me less than a year before you could read me like a book. The passage of time has only served to prove you right time and time again."
Ulrich did not know where to begin. Discomfort, a feeling of dismay creeping into his mind. He did not know how to address his concerns without raising others.
"Speak brother," Heinrick said, a quiet command, though one Ulrich knew he could refuse if he had desired to. "You know what is said between us always stays between us unless our father asks."
"I know. But I have asked him before, and I have received no answer." Ulrich paused, his mind weighed down by the question he was about to ask. "Why did he leave us behind Heinrick? Why would he endeavor to root the Dwarfs from their mountain with out the strength of his entire army behind him?"
"His pride," Heinrick said simply before continuing, "his arrogance and his bloodline. What you need to remember Ulric is that while our father is a great leader he is a son of Abhorash the Dark Father, first and foremost. He must always strive to prove himself and overcome the hunger." "It is why he did not take us along, dwarves are hardy opponents and even us vampires have trouble against their runed weapons and armour. Did you not see our fathers wounds when he returned? Do you really think we would of survived them? Though it does not seem like him he did not want to risk us against the dwarves."
"Who is to say we would have perished. Had we been by his side, had his sons been with him he may have proved victorious." Ulrich's frustration quickly boiling him up to anger "This crusade, this errand of vengence would have been unnecessary. We would not have needed these outsiders, these fawning wretches that have invaded our home. We would have gained the prizes that our father desired and without gaining allies that think of nothing save their own advancement."
Heinrick shook his head, exasperation at his younger brother's stubbornness clear, but as always he addressed Ulrich with patience. "You must also think of the consquences of all of us leaving this castle Ulric. If we had all gone and been defeated it would of taking longer to rebuild our strength for another attack and in that time the brettonians would of attacked and destroyed this castle. This castle must always remain protected so we have a home to return to."
Excuses, seemingly harmless needs that would have been addressed by others should Mordred had proceeded as he should have. "Pah, trivialities. If that is the case then who is to remain behind this time brother?"
"That will be for our father to decide when we leave. Though if I were to hazard a guess I will be the one to remain behind when you march to war." Heinrick said matter of factly, as if the choice had but one simple answer, an answer that he was comfortable with.
A derisive grunt escaped Ulrich's lips before he could stop it. However once it was out he decided he would not have wished to stop his expression of disdain for the idea. "You should stand by his side. There are no others that are more worthy. Being the home guard does not suit you brother."
"In that you are wrong," Heinrick said in the air of one about to lecture a student in something that the pupil should already understand, " it suits me more than the rest of you. Would you trust Tyreal to put up a competant defense of this castle while gathering troops? You and Gaelen would disreguard our fathers orders and follow him, as for Khalidel our father would sooner trust this castle to an orc than to him."
Resignation flooded through him. He knew that Heinrick's logic was infallible. " Of course you are right. I apologize for allowing my anger to get the better of me. I would obey father in this, I would he stay in defense of the castle should he but ask. It may rankle me, put fire to the anger that boils in my belly, but I know my duty brother. Still, if you are elected to remain behind, I will miss you at my side."
Dismissing Ulrich's sentiment with a wave of his hand, Heinrick continued, "We will have to wait and see what our father decides. He has surprised us before in the past with some of his decisions. For all we know mother could be the one to stay behind but I doubt that she would stay behind after what happened against the dwarves."
Ulrich will raise an eyebrow in queston, "Mother has said nothing to me about desiring to accompany us."
"Do you really think she will leave father alone after the dwarves almost killed him? She will barely leave his side as it is even within this castle. You also need to consider the fact fathers magical prowess has diminished since his encounter with the dwarves rune priest so it will be mother than holds most of the dead together." The feeling of wrongess that he had experienced earlier, the feeling of dread that he was unaccostomed to began to creep in at the edges of his mind. A trepidation that caused him to test the draw of his blade in its scabbard.
"That thought had not occured to me, to be honest," Ulrich admitted, "but He has been very closed to me since his return and I did not know that his abilities had been so diminished."
"Only his skills with the winds of magic have diminished," Heinrick corrected, "his skill with his blade remains the same better than all of us put together."
"I know full well his skill with a blade remains as good as it ever has been. Does anyone else know of this?" Ulrich suddenly concerned, "If this became common knowledge brother, things could become tense."
"Only you, myself, Mother and Father know of this so it is best it remains between us. But knowing our father with his current anger he will be taking his blade to more enemies then he will be with spells."
"I agree," Ulrich replied, concern evident in his voice, "I would not put it past many of the new comers to have eyes for things that are not theirs. Despite the fact that it would be unlikely that such a coup would succeed, father's plans would be disrupted dealing with it."
"I believe we can trust Radu Von Carstien as father seems to have taken a liking to him and he acts more like a son to him than Khalidel does."
"I leave such judgements to you Heinrick, I know almost nothing of Radu save the rumors that preceed him. But what you say about Khalidel is actually my chief concern. He would be stupid enough to turn against father if the right opportunity presents itself, if he was able to coax others to his cause, we would have a serious problem." The thought was almost more than he wanted to think on at the moment, but necessity forced his mind to consider the possibility.
"That depends on who joins his cause," Heinrick said. "Myself, Natasha and Mother are a match for any 'warlock' they can gather while yourself, Gaelen and Tyreal will match any warrior in combat. But do you really think any one within this keep could best father with a blade? If Khalidel did betray our father then I would doubt anyone would wish to get between Khalidel and fathers blade."
"As I said, it is not the fear of a coup's success that worries me. But the loss of resources and time that it would cause. Perhaps it is just paranoia that grips my mind. There is something about our current path that does not sit right with me. I mean for the first time in centuires loathesome Strigoi walk the halls of the keep openly, Necrarchs practice their craft in the dungeons that have been our private realms for eons, Von Carstein's strut around as if this castle belonged to them and their clan. I am just on edge Heinrick.... anxious, as if we stand on the precipice and I know not if the next step will be for good or ill." His gaze shifted his brother, but Ulrich did not know whether he sought confirmation of his fears, or a statement that would waylay them.
"If we were on a precipice im pretty sure you'd more then likely push Gaelen in to see how deep it is." It is a rare day indeed that Hienrick would joke. Heinrick's sudden jest, his humor rarely shown openly and only in private moments like this one, caught Ulrich off guard. Again the stone work halls rang out with the sound of Ulrich's barking laughter, " Your point is well taken brother." Clasping a hand to Heinrick's shoulder, "I will try not to brood on these things again."
"We must trust in our father's decision, Ulric. He did not get to his age through being careless he knows what he is doing, and should anything arise that might interfere with his plans then it is our duty as his sons to deal with it."
Ulrich will end with, "Aye brother, that it is, a duty that I would thouroughly enjoy should the occasion arise."
He passed into the Great Hall, taking in the scene that lay before him, before he raised his voice, its bass timbre carrying across the room, heavy with malice. "Caldecor, Gaudain, Melis, and Lancelot. I require you in my chambers immediately." Turning to Heinrick he mumbled, "We will continue this conversation later brother, I have matters to attend to."
He swept through the hall, barely stopping to register if his gets obeyed his commands, for he knew that they would, and continued on through the entrance hall up the stairs. His rooms awaited him, his private sanctuary, perhaps there he could decide the best manner to approach the myriad problems that required his attention.
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