The lifting of the curtain

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Know your enemy

The grey evening was almost over, and the first shadows of a long cloudy night were beginning to show themselves as Steffanes Ingriade and his company of twenty soldiers of Gardena, along with the wagon laden with supplies, rode up to the tall wooden gates of the outer wall of fort Guarav.

Fort Guarav had been built two hundred years ago, and it showed. Constructed by General Walfrid, who had extended Gardena’s borders to their furthest point in the north east, it formed the chain with its sister strongholds of Bernian and Ionval of symbols of the crown authority on this harsh frontier. It’s fairly large keep was of solid stone, but all kinds of circumstances had resulted in the slow demise of its inner walls, crumbling from once a towering presence to roughly the height of an average man. This had led to the construction of the outer wall, of thatched wood with iron reinforcements here and there. It was obvious to anyone that this would be useless if any attacker thought to bring a flaming torch, but the slow wits of the average bandit had been their greatest ally up till now.

A lone sentry stood before the gate, cloaked and hooded to keep out the cold. Upon seeing Steffanes’s column, he took two steps forward, drawing his sword in challenge.

“ Halt! If you are friends, speak the password!”

“ Emerald skies shine bright!” Steffanes replied.

The sentry lowered his sword, and pulled back his hood so that his face may be seen. He was a young man, perhaps around Steffanes’s age, with short cropped red hair with freckles to match.

“ Are you the supplies?” asked the young soldier, looking up at Steffanes.

“ We are, yes, if you’ll be so good as to open the gates, my soldiers need rest and food, and I need to speak with this forts commander”

The young man looked embarrassed, and made a swift bow. “ My apologies sir, right away sir!”

With that, he took a small horn out from under his cloak, and blew out one long note. In a few more moments, the gates began to swing open. The original gates where long gone of course, being utterly destroyed in the attack of Jedan Zylb, the great chief of storms, in what had been Steffanes’s grandfather’s day. He and the company rode around the fragments of stone that remained in their place, and passed now into the fort proper.

They found themselves in the inner courtyard, wherein the main outhouses of the fort lay. Here where the stables, blacksmiths, and outer barracks that made up the lifeblood of Fort Gaurav, spread around under the shadow of the keep. The keep and its buildings where designed to hold roughly a thousand troops, but the garrison rarely exceeded more than five hundred.

As they rode in, every soldier in the fort stopped what they were doing, and turned their heads towards the new arrivals. It didn’t take long for them to guess that this was the supplies they had long waited for, and a great cheer rose up all around them.

For a moment Steffanes became fearful of him and his soldiers being mobbed, as he saw more than a hundred troops began to move with purpose towards the column. He wandered if he should shout something, but what exactly? Fortunately, he saw his saviour coming down the stairs from the keep.

“ Alright, you grubby lot, give our guests some room! Yes they’ve brought us some presents, but we can’t open them all at once!”

The man who spoke these words was Major Wemyss, the long serving commander of Fort Guarav. A thirty year veteran of Gardena’s army, he had served twenty five of those in the harsh frontier territory, rising through the ranks from private to major, and turning down all further promotion after that. He was as imposing as his reputation suggested, with a huge muscular frame and a round, bald head. His great sword was strapped to his back, bouncing against his steel plate armour.

At his word, the soldiers of the fort stood dead in their tracks, and all fell silent.

“ Now that’s more like it! Saylor’s squad, you see to the supplies. Anyone who sneaks something off for themselves gets extra sentry duty, and that’s if I’m in a good mood!”

A group of fifteen or so soldiers took their commanders instructions, and moved over to the cart, setting about unloading crates and barrels from it. At Steffanes’s signal, his own troops dismounted and moved to help them, in order that the work would go faster.

He and sergeant Kinloch dismounted, and made their way towards the steps to Major Wemyss, who was on his way to greet them. As they reached each other Steffanes put his hand to his breast in salute, as he was bid to do for any of higher rank.

“ Junior officer Ingriade reporting sir! I bring the supplies you require, and ask for food and lodging for my company of- ooooomph!”

Before he could say anything further, Steffanes felt himself in the grip of the tightest bear hug he had ever felt. Major Wemyss was laughing as he embraced the young officer, holding him a good four inches off the ground. In addition to the squeezing pain, Steffanes could not help but feel the weight of embarrassment on his shoulders. What would his company think, to see their commander being treated like a rag doll?

“ Good to see you my boy, good to see you!” Exclaimed Major Wemyss as he released the young man from his grip, laying his hands on his junior’s shoulders. “ When last I saw you, you were barely taller than my boot, and now look at you! Junior officer, bringing me my supplies!

“ It’s good to see you too, Major Wemyss” Replied Steffanes, who was amazed he could still breathe after being squeezed like that. “ My father has told me all about you, and he bid me send his greetings”

“ Ah, good old Celas, that man never forgets his friends. Next time you see him, tell him this from me: She liked me better!” He laughed uproariously at that, and Steffanes was curious as to who “ She” was. Maybe his father would tell him.

“ Now then” said Major Wemyss after his laughing fit came to an end “ junior officer Ingriade of the Aretesan Company, we do have some business that we, as officers, need to discuss. If you would follow me, and set your sergeant to attend to your troops.”

“ With your permission sir, I’d rather Sergeant Kinloch join us”

Major Wemyss raised an eyebrow at this, and glanced over to Kinloch, whose face betrayed nothing of his thoughts. For a moment the Major stood in thought, and in the end, a look of understanding came to his eyes.

“ Very well, if that’s what you want. Come, we should get to my chambers, I’ve got good ale within, warms your bellies up after a long day of travel. Step lively now, we haven’t all day!”

Steffanes turned to his sergeant, who had begun following the major “ Kinloch, is there a corporal you can trust to see that everything is done?

Kinloch turned his gaze toward the courtyard, where the work of unloading the wagon was still going on. “ Marchell!” he shouted, load enough for all to hear.

One soldier broke from the group, and ran towards them. She was a tall, slender woman in her mid-twenties, with medium length black hair. She saluted her commanders, bowing her head slightly.

“ Here sir!”

“ Corporal Marchell, I must accompany our commander for a while. What needs to be done here?”

“ The wagon must be fully unloaded, all horses led to their stables, and the troops must be seen to their new quarters after evening meal, Sir!”

Steffanes could not help but be impressed with her quick answer, and nodded his approval for her to see. Kinloch too was pleased, as he replied “ Very good Corporal, now get to it!”

Saluting again, Marchell went back over to the wagon, and set about directing her fellows in their duties. Steffanes and Kinloch turned back towards the keep, following the Major inside.

They followed the major through the narrow hallways of the old fort, and Steffanes was sure that the old veteran was almost too tall too fit through. In no time at all they reached a fairly large door, and the major reached to his belt for the key. Turning the lock, he let them inside.

They found themselves in what Steffanes assumed to be the majors office, with a desk buried under a pile of paperwork taking up most of the space. The major showed them to two chairs, and sat himself down behind his desk.

“ Chalmers!” shouted the Major, ringing a bell on his desk. In the blink of an eye the door swung open, revealing a blonde young soldier carrying several scrolls under one arm.

“ Yes sir?” asked Chalmers.

“ Drop that rubbish down here, and fetch some ale for my guests and I. the good stuff that time, not the crap we give to the merchants that pass through.”

“ Aye sir!” replied Chalmers, shutting the door beside him.

“ Now then” said the major, turning towards Kinloch and Steffanes “ its good fortune you came, my lad. We needed those supplies, it’s been hard getting anything with those bandits about. You have any trouble on the way here?”

“ We did, yes.” Replied Steffanes. He told the major about the bandits that they encountered on the road, and how they’d been driven off without much difficulty.

“ It shows how bold they are now, if you found them strutting along the road like that” remarked the major.

“ We inspected the sacks they were carrying, and found several bottles of wine. I can assume they were drunk, or else they wouldn’t have charged at us.”

“ Fair enough, though if they’d been sober and ambushed you, it could have been a different tale. Still, it sounds as though you did well in your first action. I’m sure your father would be pleased.”

Steffanes tried not to look embarrassed, but he was sure he failed. He wondered if every meeting with a superior would always lead to comments about his father.

Chalmers arrived with the ale, and handed a mug to each of them. Steffanes tasted it, and for a moment he could imagine himself back home, with his old friends about him.

“ Good stuff, aye?” said the Major with a smile. “ Now then, if you’re here, that means the rest of the Aretesan Company won’t be far behind. If what I’ve been told is correct, the Deven and Oversarn companies will be due at Ionval and Bernian any day now. When every company reports in, we’ll start the sorties, and put this whole bandit business to bed, eh?

“ Colonel Derhn bid me tell you that his company should arrive two days after us. But just how large a force are we dealing with”

The major shrugged his shoulders “ Who’s to know? Theirs certainly enough of the buggers to warrant three companies coming up here, so my guess is a thousand or so. Of course, I could be wrong, but that’s for the scouts to find out.”

“ Scouts are coming here?” Asked Steffanes, his eyes lighting up. Scouts of Gardenan armies where elite soldiers, and he’d always wished to meet one.

“ Does that idiot Derhn tell you nothing? All companies are being joined by two scouts each, in order to assess the enemy’s numbers and counteract ambushes. If it where up to me, I’d just smash the bastards in one blow, but we have to do this properly. Still, I hope I get a chance to swing my sword again, it’s been far too long since the old girls taken some heads.”

“How did these bandits get so bold?”

“ It’s Banfrith” Blurted out Chalmers, who’d stayed in the room. “ They’re all following him, rallying to his call. He’s a demon, I swear to-“

Major Wemyss threw his empty ale mug at the young soldiers head, missing by little more than an inch.

“ What have I told you Chalmers, what have I told all of you maggots?! Shut your worthless mouths about this Banfrith, before I really lose my temper!”

“ Who is Banfrith?” Asked Steffanes. Clearly there was more to this.

“ Banfrith” replied Major Wemyss, calming down. “ Is a big man in fancy looking armour, which seems to have convinced more than a few fools that he’s some great warrior. He’s leading the bandits, and it’s him that’s keeping them from simply fading away. Take my advice lad: don’t listen to anything you hear about him. The truth is that he’ll soon be dead, either in battle or swinging at the end of a rope.”

Steffanes simply nodded at that. He was curious to see Banfrith for himself, to understand what made Chalmers so afraid of him.

“ Now then” Said the major, rising from his seat “ it’s late, and there’s much to get on with before bedtime. You’d best get yourself some food my boy, and make sure your troops are alright. We’ll speak more tomorrow, if you’d like. “

He offered Steffanes his hand, who took it with a firm shake. He turned to leave, and pretended not to notice that Major Wemyss had taken Kinloch to one side, whispering something in his ear. He assumed it was something along the lines of “ Look after the lad, eh?”

Earlier that day, he had felt something of manhood, in the way his troops had obeyed his orders and seemingly respected him. Here, under the watchful gaze of these two veterans, he felt every inch the child again. Sure, to his face the Major and Sergeant showed him all the respect of his rank, but he was sure that behind his back, they fretted about the boy that was being sent to battle.

But honestly, Steffanes could not blame them, and he was sure that he’d feel the same in their shoes. Still, he wanted to prove them wrong, and the skirmish earlier that day had given him hope that he could do so. It may take a while, but shirking a challenge was not a phrase in the Ingriade family vocabulary.

He and Kinloch left together, leaving Chalmers to the mercy of the old Major. Upon leaving the keep, they found that the cart was now fully unloaded. He looked over the whole yard, and saw none of his troops. He heard raucous laughter coming from what he’d guessed to be the food hall. Kinloch turned to him with, and offered a salute.

“ May I have permission to take my evening meal, Sir?”

Steffanes nodded. “ Yes sergeant, thank you for your service today.” He smiled, hoping that it let the old man know just how much he’d appreciated everything he’d done for him over the last few hours. His hope was rewarded when Kinloch smiled back at him

He felt that he should go and join his squad, so he could sit down and eat with them. But for some reason, he didn’t feel all that hungry, and his hands felt as if they should be doing something. Normally when he felt like this, he’d go for a round of sword training, but he wasn’t in the mood for that either. What to do then, if not eat.

The answer came to him when he looked over the yard again, and saw the soldiers of the fort that where still engaged in work. In one corner, he could see one man chopping firewood, a heavy pile of logs by his side. Even from far away, Steffanes could tell that this man was tired, and as he moved closer he was able to see more clearly how he sweated and strained at his work. He was a stout man, a fair bit older than Steffanes, and he clearly wanted to be in the warm rather than working himself to an early grave.

“ You there!” Steffanes called out. “ You’re relieved, get to the food hall.”

The man turned about, dropping his axe as he did so. Sweat was pouring down his face, which bore a surprised look.

“ Really?” asked the man, before he remembered himself and put his hand to his breast in salute.

“ Yes, really, now get in the food hall on the double, that’s an order. If the Major or anyone else has a problem with it, they can bring it to me.”

Not looking to question a good deed any further, the soldier bolted for the food hall without another word. In that same moment, rain began to fall in the yard, at a steady downpour. Looking to the sky, Steffanes sighed. Surely fate was meant to reward good deeds?

He divested himself of his upper body armour, leaving his mail shirt and steel armbands on a stump. Now wearing only his white undershirt, he set to work, the rain not bothering him quite so much now. He was no stranger to chopping wood, and in no time at all he found himself making swift work of the pile. Perhaps he would have time for a meal with his troops, after all.

“ Sir, what are you doing?”

Steffanes snapped back to full awareness, and turned about to the direction of this voice. Standing nearby him was corporal Marchell , with a confused look on her face. She’d clearly left the food hall, and had not expected to find her commander like this.

For some reason, Steffanes could not immediately answer her. He looked about himself, trying to avoid her eyes. It was almost like she was his mother, walking in on him doing something embarrassing.

“ Sir, are you alright?” Marchell asked, concern in her voice.

Finally, Steffanes regained his composure. “ I’m chopping wood Corporal, what does it look like I’m doing?”

At this, Marchell looked indignant. “ Of course I know your chopping wood sir, it’s just that officers don’t do our grunt work for us, idiot!”

The moment “ Idiot” left her mouth, she covered it with her hands, her face a mixture of embarrassed and terror. Speaking like that to a superior could result in any number of punishments, all to the choice of the offended officer.

Uncovering her mouth, she blurted out “ I’m so sorry sir, please, it’s just that- oh shit, fuck!”

For a moment there was silence, Marchell awaiting whatever fate she had coming to her with her head bowed. But to her utter surprise, she heard the sound of uproarious laughter, and looked up to see her young commander bent down to his knees, clutching his sides as he chuckled aloud.

“ Stars above” thought the corporal, “ how have I ended up with this madman for my commander”

Eventually, Steffanes stopped laughing, and got to his feet. He looked over to Marchell with a smile.

“ What’s your name Corporal? Your first name, I mean?”

“ Errm, it’s Alecia sir. Why are you asking?”

Steffanes moved closer to her, setting his axe down. He offered his hand in greeting, the rain now falling in heavier torrents upon the pair of them.

“ My name’s Steffanes, and even though you wouldn’t be able to do so in public, you can call me that rather than Sir. Thanks’ for making me laugh.”

She stared at him for a moment, trying to process what was happening. After half a minute, she took his hand.

“ Thank you sir- Steffanes. If you want to chop wood, it’s up to you.”

Steffanes shrugged. “ I just hate not having anything to do, that’s all. Besides, the food doesn’t smell all that good.”

“ It’s not that bad, if you close your eyes. Holding your nose helps too.”

“ I guess I’m not missing all that much then, so there’s a comfort.”

She smiled at that, then noticed something. “ You’re soaked through, you’ll catch your death if you stay out here much longer.”

Steffanes looked down at his shirt, which he could now see through. Alecia was right, staying out here for much longer would be unhealthy.

“ Look,” said Alecia, “ let’s get inside. You should be able to find a shirt somewhere.”

Steffanes simply nodded in agreement, and made to pick up his armour. Once he was done, Alecia beckoned that he follow her, and the two headed across the yard to one of the wood buildings. A distant rumble in the sky could be heard, which meant lightning on the plains tonight.

They found themselves in the washing room, where all the clothes and armour of the forts soldiers were cleaned. There was no one here, all laundry having been done in the morning. The shelves where stacked with clean clothes, ideal for Steffanes’s needs.

Without hesitating, he grabbed a shirt from the shelf, tossing off his ruined one. Before putting it on, he took a towel down from another shelf, as his long hair was also soaked through. For a moment or two he stood and dried himself off, shivering slightly as he stood shirtless in the cold room. Then he remembered he wasn’t alone, and turned about to see Alecia sitting down on a bench, staring at the ceiling.

For the second time that evening, Steffanes felt embarrassed.

“ I’m sorry,” He said, blushing, “ I should have remembered you where here.”

She smiled at that, and replied “ Don’t worry, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before. You’ll find that in this army, prudery doesn’t really have a place.”

Steffanes had no answer to that, so he simply nodded. He supposed that he had much to learn about day to day life in the army, and in a small way he was annoyed at his father for not giving him more details. Still, it was just like the old man, to let him find things out for himself.

“ So,” Asked Alecia, breaking the silence. “ This is your first commission?”

“ It is, yes. I missed the war altogether, so my father fixed it that I join the Aretesan’s and come here. How about you, been in the army long?

“ Five years, served with the Aretesan’s all that time. We were at Heidelhill, and the siege of Dorrim castle. “

“ I heard about those battles” Steffanes remarked, putting on his shirt. “ The word is they were hard fought victories. I wish I could have been there, I-“

He stopped as he took note of her face, and saw that she was clearly remembering those battles herself. Her hands where trembling on her knees, and her shoulders where shaking.

Steffanes didn’t know what to do, and he felt like the greatest fool in the kingdom at this moment. Here he was, mouthing off like a boy about great battles, while here was one who knew them for themselves.

“ I……… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said all that” was all he could come up with, and he was sure it wasn’t enough.

She turned to him, and he could see she was trying to smile. “ No… I’m sorry. It’s silly of me to get like this, but…… Well, I lost some friends on those days. War isn’t like the songs say. As a man who’s taken a life, you should know that.”

Steffanes felt a jab of pain in his heart at that last remark, and turned his face downward. He’d spent so much of that day trying to forget the woman he’d killed, the look on her face as her life ebbed away. But now, he could see her again, and guilt rose in his chest at what he’d done. Sure, she’d chosen the bandits life, she’d tried to kill him, but there could have always been another way. She needn’t have died at his hands.

“ Look” Suggested Alecia, after an uncomfortably long pause “ Let’s forget we brought up this whole subject, alright? I’ll start us over, where are you from?”

Steffanes was glad of a change of subject, but a little taken aback by the question. He sat beside her on the bench, leaning back against the wall.

“ You don’t know? I thought everyone knew where my family was from.”

“ I don’t have time to remember where every jumped up noble spouted from.” Answered Alecia with a snort.

Steffanes felt he should be offended by that last remark, but found that he wasn’t. Somehow, he wasn’t interested in defending his family’s honour at this time.

“ Our castle is just by Cullsrest, down in the east.”

“ It figures why I might not know” Remarked Alecia. “ I’m an Abelian girl myself, born and raised. Before I joined the army, I’d never seen so much as a field, let alone any castles.”

“ So that’s why you joined the army, is it?” jibed Steffanes, “ To see fields and castles?”

Alecia smirked at that. “ No, it’s because it was that or work in my pa’s jewel shop all my sodding life, bowing and scraping to every stuck up prick that walked through the door.”

“ A Jewel shop?” Remarked Steffanes. “ I’ve never seen one. I know we had a supplier in Abelia, Finnolan’s of Yeate Street.”

Alecia sighed at that. “ That would be my pa’s place. Named for my great grandpa, and meant to be mine one day. But if stars are kind, my pa will hand it over to Talvot, my stupid little brother. He loves stacking shiny rocks in neat little rows, never mixing the eighty different shades of dark blue, not confusing order seven- fifteen with order thirteen. He’s welcome to it, I say.”

“ So what happens when you leave the army?” Steffanes asked. “ Do you have a plan at all.”

Alecia shrugged her shoulders “ Never given it much thought. Maybe I’ll set up a farm, or a tavern. Or just never leave, be like old Kinloch and die in my boots. Shit, I could die in my boots before I grow old.”

“ What about you, lord’s son?” She asked Steffanes. “ is it all inheritance for you, take the castle and the wealth that comes with it?

Steffanes stretched out his arms, taking a second before he answered. The thunder and lightning hadn’t let up during their whole talk, hammering against their wooden hut.

“ I suppose it is, and unlike you, I probably can’t run get away from it.”

Alecia put her hand to her chest, and replied with a voice of mocking sympathy “Oh how tragic, to be born to a castle and money and silk sheets. How I weep for you!”

Steffanes chuckled a little at that. “I’ve heard that before, and trust me, I used to moan to anyone that would listen about not wanting to be the lord of Ingriade castle. I told my father again and again, I wanted to go and see the world, live by my own wits and sword, taking what I wanted when I wanted it.”

“ Well, what did your father say to that?”

Steffanes smiled. “ When I was thirteen, he finally let me go. He told me that if I lasted a week on my own, he’d strike me from the succession and I’d be free for life. I gathered up all my friends from the village, and off we went. We called ourselves the wild brotherhood, mercenary gang for hire.”

Alecia looked up to the roof, a faraway look in her eyes. “ That must have been quite the sight, all of you wandering around trying to look tough. How long did that last?”

“ Oh, about two days. See, when you’re the lords son, at least half of your friends are only your friends because you happen to be the lords son. That half left after a few hours, when they realised we’d have to hunt for our own food. The rest of us made it through one night, then we realised we had no idea where we were going. I let the rest of them go at the end of the second day, then spent the night in a barn. My father found me the next morning, and told me that I’d barely made it four miles away from our castle!”

He could see Alecia laughing even as he finished, and he couldn’t help but laugh himself. For a moment or two, the pair of them laughed together.

“ Stars above” Remarked Alecia as she finished laughing. “ The idiocy of boys, eh? I guess you learned your lesson then?”

“ Sort off. From then on, my father made me focus on my sword training and all of that, so I’d work off all my energy. But every Fithday night I’d sneak out of the castle and head to the tavern, where me and my friends would do what young lads do. Just last month I found out my father knew all along, and told our guards to just let me go.”

Alecia stretched out her arms, rising them high above her head. “ It’s been ages since I’ve been to a tavern” She mused. “ Last time I was in one, this huge brawl broke out. Someone spilled someone’s pint or kissed someone’s girl, I don’t know. But I do know I knocked at least three people out with my bare fists, until some bastard got me with a chair.”

Steffanes smirked at her “ I can top that. Five, until someone got a steel pipe and smacked me with it. I grew my hair long to cover up the scar.”

Alecia pouted at him. “ lads like you, always got to one up everybody.”

“ Of course, that’s what young officers do.”

For a minute, neither of them said anything, yet this was not an awkward silence. They listened to the rain and thunder outside, each of them content with their own thoughts.

“ You know” said Alecia, breaking the silence “ We’ll have to forget about all this tomorrow. Talking like this, getting on like friends. Your still my commander after all, and I’m just a corporal.”

Steffanes sighed, and lowered his head. “ I know, what a bugger. I don’t feel that half of this is right, you know? Me, telling all of you what to do.”

“ It’s not fair.” Replied Alecia.

“ Exactly. Don’t think I don’t see it from you and the other soldier’s side. I’m just some lord’s brat to you, and I’m expecting you to do what I tell you. It can’t be-“

“ Stop it!” Shouted Alecia, causing Steffanes to jump in his seat. He looked over to her, and saw that she was staring at him, anger in her eyes.

“ When I said it’s not fair, I meant on you, not us! It’s not fair that you have to deal with having our lives in your hands, but don’t you think that if we all wanted to, we could refuse your orders? But we’re soldiers, Steffanes, and though we’ve served longer than you, we respect that you’ve been given this post, and you’ve got some idea of what you’re doing. Just look at what happened today, we followed your word, and all of us lived. So far, so good, if you ask me. ”

Steffanes bowed his head. He felt like the world’s greatest fool, and a part of him wanted to cry. He’d been so wrapped up in his self-absorbed doubts and insecurities, he’d forgotten that others didn’t always want to hear him whine.

“ You’re right.” Steffanes’s voice was low, and he couldn’t help but sound like he was on the verge of tears. “ I can do this, and I can count on all of you to help. I didn’t train all of those years just to doubt myself now. I’ll just shut up and leave then.”

With that, he stood up and made to leave the room. But before he could take one step, he felt a hand grab his arm. He looked down at Alecia, and saw in her eyes that she was sorry.

“ Please, don’t go.” She pleaded. “ I just, you needed to hear that. I can understand, you know, feeling like you do now. I don’t expect you to just get over it, but maybe….”

She trailed off, but Steffanes didn’t need her to say any more. He sat back down, and without thinking about what he was doing, leaned over so that he was resting on her shoulder. She said nothing, and made no attempt to push him off.

“ You know” Said Steffanes, his voice now calm. “ You’re more than just a corporal, you realise that?”

“ Of course I do”. Replied Alecia, with mock indignation. “ don’t you forget it. “

“ I won’t, Alecia.” Steffanes then smiled as he realised something. “ Ha, Alecia from Abelia.”

Alecia rolled her eyes. “ It usually takes people less time to pick up on that. It’s a Nikralkan name, my great grandpa was run out of there for cheating some count.”

“ It’s a nice name. “ He leaned her head on her shoulder, feeling more and more comfortable with being this close to her.

They both should have known what they did next was wrong. Known just how many rules they were breaking. Known that they were both being idiots.

But in that brief moment, neither of them cared.

It began with Steffanes slowly putting his arm around Alecia’s waist. He wasn’t thinking about what he was doing, and all it would take was a firm slap to bring him back to himself.

Next, she turned her face to his. She was smiling, and for the first time that night, Steffanes noticed her beauty. Dark eyes, smooth skin, and an inner warmth that could overwhelm you.

Then he felt her lips on his, and closed his eyes. She brought her hand to his cheek as she deepened the kiss, her tongue in his mouth. He still held her waist tightly, never wanting to let go.

How long this kiss lasted, neither of them had any idea.

Then came the loudest thunderclap of the night, and following straight after, the bellowing voice of Sergeant Kinloch from the courtyard.

“ My Lord Ingriade! Where are you!”

Other voices chimed in, some shouting for Steffanes, others addressing the corporal.

They both pulled away from each other, a sudden rush of terror gripping both of them. Steffanes looked over to Alecia, and at seeing how wide her eyes where, the redness of her face, the heaviness of her breathing, he nearly cried out.

Guilt, shame, fear, regret, all these feelings rushed him at once. His heart was pounding fit to burst, and his throat felt so tight he was sure he would die.

Speech was out of the question, so with one last look at Alecia, he grabbed his bundle of armour, and ran from the washroom. Upon stepping outside, he sprinted for the direction of the keep, where he assumed his quarters would be.

“ Idiot!” he said to himself, over and over again as he ran. If the stars where the least bit kind, they would send a lightning bolt directly upon his head.

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Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.