Sienna waited for Smyth to explain. But he returned to the fire. And let his anger wash out in waves.

Sienna walked over, and stood next to him. Roland Smyth’s rages were legendary. Where other nobles cajoled the previous Konstantin lord, Smyth had held his own fiefdom. He meted out justice and taxation as he saw fit, in an iron fist that now reminded his daughter of the countess. Had trained his own guards, placed them at the border of the estate, and dared Vlad Konstantin to do anything about it.

Vlad had not raged. Instead, he took a perverse pleasure in showcasing the skill of Roland Smyth’s guardsmen. He had arranged tourneys for all the able-bodied men to attend, and had heaped lavish praise upon the Smyth winner, as it always turned out to be. Placed him in a spot of honor, by his side.

And Roland Smyth continued to seethe.

“Do you know why I do not attend court, Sienna?” He asked.

“Because you have far better things to do than muddle about with vapid puffs of air dressed up in gilded titles.” Sienna responded mechanically.

Smyth nodded, not noticing the wooden nature. “I find court worthless. Gossip will not clear my fields of weeds. Intrigue will not cut down the trees, or tie up the bundles for harvest. And poetry will not warm my men in the dead of winter.”

He smiled into the fire. “I am a branch on a tree. Set to my own devices. Keep my twigs and leaves healthy and strong. I live amongst the leaves, and they know me. They respect me, because I am seen. It is a known relationship, a quality that can be measured.”

The wind howled outside. The tree branches rattled against the side of the manse. Smyth enjoyed the simple sound.

“I can do this, because I am a branch of this Valley. I have one responsibility, one task beneath me. Look over those given to me. But there are responsibilities above me. Further up the tree.

“And those above my station, must see all parts of the tree. The roots, the trunk, the pretty leaves. If just one part is ill, or turned inwards with rot, the tree shall rot.”

“Those branches who would choke off the trunk.” Sienna completed. “Not knowing that to do so will cause them to fall as well.”

Smyth turned and hugged his girl close. She gasped, and couldn’t return it. Lord Smyth held his daughter, and she did not know how to respond.

After an eternity, he released her. “My little girl is…growing up.” He chose his words carefully, distinctly. “She is learning that she has merit, and worth. And an intelligence honed by far too many years of gossip.”

Smyth picked up a piece of paper from his desk, and handed it to her. “Cut off the branches, before they choke us all.” He turned to the fire. “Cast them into flames of ice, and watch the tree grow stronger for it.”

Sienna bowed, and turned to leave.

“And Sienna?”


Smyth put another log on the fire, before returning to his desk.

“You love her. And respect her. And I must admit that she has one of the finest minds to rule this Valley in generations, and the will to make it truly a wonder.”

He fixed his daughter with a hard look. “But never trust the Konstantins. They shall only bring ruin to those closest to them.”

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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