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Cornaber's Heir

by Giampaolo Agosta

It was a sunny morning of a beautiful Bergdhovian summer, and no one else was in the Portraits Hall of the famed Flaemish Historical Museum, but a young man of unmistakable Aalbanese ancestry, toiling at his canvas, with a large palette in his left hand and a thin brush in the right one.

He had been working since dawn, making a perfect copy of one of the innumerable paintings of nobles, statesmen and other Flaemish famous people of the past. The painting he was copying was peculiar in many respects. First, it wasn't a portrait, but the representation of a ceremony, was meaning wasn't entirely clear to the artist, who was more interested in the money he was going to receive for his work than in the painting itself. More, the painting did not portray Flaemish people, but most of the characters were pale-faced humans, with more than a few elves.

Heinrich, for this was the name of the young man, raised his head from his current work, the four characters in background in the bottom left corner of the canvas, and swept his hands on his doublet, adding some more splotches of colour to the already stained cloth.

"Ah, the so-called "Marriage of Prince Vitalin Aendyr", I see" said a shrill voice behind Heinrich. "What?" said the painter, turning to look at the old man who had interrupted his thoughts. "Oh, nothing really important, but Prince Aendyr wasn't a Prince yet, back in the 855, the year of his marriage".

Heinrich had learned much about that old man, Johan, in the few days he had been in Kopstar. First, even though he appeared just as an inconspicuous, if a bit addled, old Flaem, he was in fact the Keeper of the Museum, so Heinrich had to remain in his good graces if he wanted to keep working in the Hall. Second, he never got tired of talking, especially when he had could indulge in showing his great knowledge of the minutest details of Flaemish lore or Glantrian history.

Since the Flaem was in a talkative mood, Heinrich quickly gave up his original purpose of working till noon, and replied: "Oh, I never noticed, Master Madhorsen". "As you always do, isn't it?" said the old Flaem, in his usual patronizing tone, "and I suppose you don't even know why this painting is here, or who those people were?", while pointing to the area Heinrich had just finished.

He didn't even wait Heinrich's answer, and reached out with his finger to the portrait of a man of pure Alphatian complexion and features.

"This one is Stefan, Viscount of Volnay, a near relative of Vitalin, and his wife Failwen, sister of the famed Idagoraz Cornaber, the elf who would become the first Count of Soth-Kabree. The young child is, of course, Stefan's son Arnulf".

"Wait!" said Heinrich, taking advantage of a pause in the Flaem's speech, "you said that Alphatian married an elven maiden? But I thought the elves weren't that friendly with the humans in that time!"

"Sure, but the Alphatians, especially those of the Kabree Valley, had lived among the Erewan colonists for some years already, and, perhaps more important, Vitalin needed all possible allies, even outside the

Republic, for his position wasn't sure enough, after all the mess done by his predecessors".

"Oh, of course" replied the young artist. "Moreover, that Stefan was actually Stefan Cornhearst, the Count of Soth-Kabree. I suppose he inherited his brother-in-law's title."

"No, no! Why you always have to assume to be true what you could have easily ascertained through the use of the most reliable sources. Here, let's have a look to this one", said Master Madhorsen, reaching an old tome in a low scaffold under the painting. "Ah, here it is!" continued the Keeper, carefully searching through the old paper sheets, "here is the record of the Council votation which conferred the title of Count of Soth-Kabree to Lord John Bluebeard, after the death of old Idagoraz at the hand of the fleeing rebels in last skirmishes of the Civil War. You see, it is quite clear: "In favour of the Honourable Lord, Viscount John Bluebeard of Blofeld, doth speak the Prince of the Black Hill, and Prince Fernando de Belcadiz, Marquis del Alhambra" et cetera. Vitalin did not support his own relation Stefan, nor did so Fernando, who was related to Failwen Cornaber through his brother-in-law, the future Prince Charan Erewan. You might wonder about this unusual event, where the candidate with obvious rights, both as the heir of the late Count and as a relative of both Princes".

Actually, Heinrich could not bother less about that old crap, but the old Keeper would have let him go without completing his lesson. "Indeed, it is a most instructive example of the workings of Glantrian politics. Stefan, while being friend with both Vitalin and Charan, was not considered by Fernando as a good choice for the succession to Idagoraz. Many political analysts, including Piero Recioto, author of the famous compendium still used by the Spokesmen' Guild as the main reference for their apprentices, consider this the first sign of the rising ill will of Fernando towards the Erewan elves, and particularly against Charan. Confronted with such an unexpected move by Fernando, Vitalin was clearly uncertain about the course of action to take, but he eventually chose to sacrifice Stefan's rights to the alliance with the Elf Prince. It was in consequence of this event that Stefan took the surname of Cornhearst, as in a speech to the House of Lords he violently attacked Count Bluebeard, while affirming to be "Cornaber's heir", at least in the spirit of justice and fair-handedness that had characterised the elven nobleman, and which John Blueberd surely lacked.

Stefan was thereafter called Corn-hearst, which in the Alphatian dialect of Blackhill stands for Cornaber's Heir."

Madhorsen took a deep breath, then said "I've told you much today, young man. I hope you have learned something from my words, at least this time!"

As swift as he had arrived the Keeper of Flaemish Lore left the room, returning to his old books and scrolls.

Heinrich yawned, leaving the Hall and the Museum, heading for Golden Shepherd tavern, where a mug of imported weissbier and a few sausages would be the least compensation he could afford for having to stand the historical ramblings of the old Flaem.