When a man is forced to choose between what is honourable and what is right, how would he know which is the best choice?
The Royal Guardsman, Sir Aedan, often pondered this as he wandered the streets of his city. The bodies that littered the street far exceeded his expectation, bodies of men, women and children already riddled with rats and maggots.
He slogged through the streets, his cloak covering his mouth as he inhaled the fumes of burning and decay. Truth be told, he had seen nothing as horrible as this disease. It was as if the city itself was on the verge of collapse, and yet he still questioned himself concerning childish ideas brought about by days without his treasured sleep. The sky was a beautiful blend of orange and blue, the warmth of the morning sun brightened his mood ever so slightly and in such an unfortunate time; but it only reminded him of the longing to fall into a slumber, an eternal rest.
The most recent body count was around one hundred and four today alone, yet he estimated the count would be higher come evening.
The past year had been one for the storybooks to be sure, the King and his legendary Royal Guard fighting off the internal siege that is The Red Death, a siege of disease. Many of those in Ravengate knew this disease to be the Red Death, others have called it the Maker’s Punishment or The Fatal Itch, but it made no difference to him what they called it. Those in the city treated it as a punishment from the Maker whilst others on the more fanatical side treated it as a test from their god, testing their faith in times of crisis. Aedan had to admit he was never one for prayers, but yet even he prayed in the churches on rare nights of peace.
He was the youngest bastard son of an Elvish Lord, Goren Howe, so despite his young appearance Aedan was far older than he looked and though his hair was not grey and his heart not weakened by age, he was the oldest of the Royal Guard of King Jasper II. He was seventy, perhaps coming up to seventy-one years if he remembered correctly, the isolation of the city made it harder for him to keep track of time; all the days blurred together from the repetition.
He had spent most of his youth as a Monster Slayer, those days were behind him when he took up the armour of the Royal Guard, and even in those days he had not seen a disease like the Red Death.
Aedan knew every disease known to man, elf or dwarf, he could dispel a curse in his sleep and yet he could not determine where the Red Death had come from, all he could say was one with the infection might wake up healthy as a bear in the morning and by supper be heaving blood with their skin a similar colour or spend days with no symptoms what so ever and instead be a carrier. He knew the initial symptoms everyone would catch was the itch, a faint yet never-ending itch that would grow in intensity over the day. He watched men he knew scratch the very flesh from their arms to free themselves of the itch, only to die from the shock thereafter.
An educated guess as to the origins of the disease was that it came from insects such as a flea on a dog or a mosquito from across the sea seeking a warmer climate. Fleas could pass it onto cats and dogs in the street, good beasts dogs, but often filthy. Whether it was sheer luck or the last embers of brilliance from a madman, something told King Jasper he needed to seal off the city the same winter he raised the Travel Tax. Fearing for his life, he closed off the city and shut the gates in the early days of infection, sealing off Ravengate and the infection inside.
He continued through the city, his Royal Guard armour once a beautiful set of gilded steel, now dulled and scratched, appearing more like the armour of a brigand than that of an anointed knight. Despite how damaged the plate was, he felt heavier the closer he got to the castle. He would be a liar if he said it didn’t frighten him. How quiet the city was now. Once upon a time Ravengate was a marvel to visit, a golden city boasting the highest population of all the cities of Aster, the last census claiming the city to top over six hundred thousand men and women.
Aedan truly couldn’t prepare himself for how hard it would be to see people he knew dropping dead, he had fought in battles and seen friends cut down like cattle throughout his life, but seeing the bodies of so many children made him sick to his stomach. Just this morning he had brought in the last of the dead. The coroner’s count confirmed nearly half of the city had fallen to the disease in the last year, yet even he realised the cases had dropped in the past few weeks, if not earlier.
There was one person in the entire city he hoped was still okay, not the King, not his wife, nor his brothers in the Royal Guard. It was a young noblewoman named Bethany. How he yearned for just one more day with that woman.
The last of the dead had been burned mere minutes before, and his heart was lighter knowing none of them were her. She would never be in that pile. The smoke could be seen from Redmount Keep, blending the sun’s rays with the black smoke in such a way that convinced the peasantry it was still evening. His armour still grew heavier by the minute, thinking about how this disease had destroyed his home. It was destroying the city from the inside while the King sat on his throne idly. Aedan had to watch it crumble, yet it did not take a wise man to see the disease had been wiped out. They were burning the dead to strike fear into the small folk. It was working.
Whether he lived or died, this madness would end today.
Stopping outside of the great keep, Aedan hesitated to open the doors. He gripped the brass handles tightly but he could not muster the strength to open it, fear or an unknown force was stopping him in his tracks yet he persisted and began digging his feet in the ground and the doors opened before him, his armour rattled and echoed through the halls of the great keep as he entered and the eerie silence made him uneasy. He was to do his duty for the rest of the day, protecting his King with the help of his two brothers in the Royal Guard, Sir Tristan Greenwood and Sir Alexander Willem. The last three knights of a senile King’s Royal Guard, another tale for the bards. Aedan took off his helmet as he made his way through the halls. His medium length brown hair was cut to fit his helmet, eyes were a beautiful hazel.
At a sidewards glance Aedan could be considered handsome and some would say he still is, even with his nose that had been broken one too many times and the horrible scar that disfigured the left side of his face, just narrowly missing his eye was the reminder of what happens when a hunter gets sloppy, a three clawed scar from a Skin Walker. He had a light stubble formed along his jawline, making him appear older, and despite it all he still would have considered himself the best looking out of his brothers in the Royal Guard regardless of his deformity.
He walked through the castle alone, Aedan believed that the quiet was a blessing but after years of sleeping in ditches and serving senile King’s, the silence is dangerous, with the servants in the castle dead from the disease, the quiet of it all made him uneasy, something not easily done. Down the marble hallways of the castle, he saw the two remaining Royal Guard standing to attention at the doors to the throne room.
Aedan looked to the tallest of the two which was Sir Alexander and then to the Lord Commander who stood to the right.
“The King’s orders have been completed. The people remain scared of his grace, the disease has been burnt out.” Sir Tristan didn’t agree with what Sir Aedan was saying, standing to oppose him.
“You do not have the authority to declare such things, Sir.” He told him. “You are the newest amongst our ranks and I am your commander. I speak into the King’s ear, and I propose we say nothing.” Aedan acknowledged the commander. Despite their views on each other, there was a mutual respect between the two.
He turned to Sir Alexander, who said nothing, either out of disgust or out of fear. Either way, he knew the two men made up their minds.
Now it was time to make up his own mind.
Aedan opened the throne room doors where the Old King sat on the throne of Aster’s Kings and Queens. Thousands of years old, yet it still appeared as strong as the day it was carved, but the King who sat it appeared more a spectre than a man.
In the thirty-six years Jasper has sat on the throne, he had been the picture of chivalry. He fought to get Aster back during a time of conquest from a neighbouring country who imprisoned Aster’s people for half a century; he took the throne from the Sell-sword King who sided with the Cinnian people and stole the throne from Jasper’s Grandfather and in all the times of war and sickness, the King never stared death in the eye more than the day the Red Death was truly over.
The three knights knelt before the King in the throne room, Aedan taking a knee first as he addressed him as the smell of sweat assaulted his nostrils.
“Your grace, the count today was one hundred and four. This past moon we have lost a little under five thousand men and women. The bodies have been burnt.” He knelt there in silence after that for what felt like an eternity on the cold ground, yet the old King staggered to his feet from his throne, retreating behind the pale chair to the stained glass windows to look over the city.
“And what of outside of the city? Is there any news of rebellion?” His arms were crossed behind his back and for but a moment the powerful figure seemed his old self again.
“Outside the walls, we believe Prince Fenris is planning to sack the city. His siege towers could make it through the gates in a day in the state of our army. If we acted sooner maybe we could have-”
King Jasper lifted his hand to silence Aedan.
“I did what was necessary to keep this disease from breaking out, Sir Aedan. If one trace of the infection got out of the city, a guard, a child, even a rat and the whole Kingdom falls.” Aedan looked back to his King, conflicting morals taking over his instinctual duty to the man he served.
“Your grace, what will you ask of us if Prince Fenris should attempt to storm the city? The other houses believe we have imprisoned the people of Ravengate and they believe you too made to rule.” Sir Tristan questioned, raising his head slightly to speak.
“My brother is a fool to challenge me. He should meet the same fate as the others who defy their King.”
He could feel it in his stomach, the uncertainty. The conflict. What they were doing was wrong. Aedan knew it, Tristan knew it and so did Alexander and yet their vows prevented them from taking up arms against the King even if their own lives were at risk. The Knight took a long deep breath and continued to listen as the King turned away from his knights, staring out of the castle with the early morning sun shining through the stained glass window depicting a red sun, the same sun as the day the Tear occurred. He could feel his mouth drying up in fear of what would follow. Would Jasper ask them to burn the city to the ground? To enlist the help of the strange Monks who could control fire so they may light barrels under the city and leave ashes? Would they open the gates willingly and risk disease breaking out? Who could say with a King who was now frightened of his own shadow as Jasper was?
The three remaining knights knelt in anticipation of what their King planned next. He gave them a tired sigh before turning back to face them with a sickly smile. “Commander Greenwood, take your brothers to your tower, devise a plan for our friends who wait at out gates. You have my permission to do whatever you so please.”
Sir Tristan got to his feet and nodded to his King, Sir Aedan had to admit to feeling slightly relieved that they were not likely to destroy the city, the trio of Knights followed the empty hallways to the southern tower where Aedan’s thoughts were as full as the halls once were, as he began to formulate a plan, anything he could do to stop this madness from going any further.
“I truly feel relieved, Sirs,” Alexander sighed, scratching his messy hair. “We can never be sure what he’s going to order us to do.” He admitted to Aedan freely.
“I agree, with how King Jasper has been as of late, I feared his grace would have ordered us to-” Sir Tristan cut Aedan off quickly, the bastard knight kept silent for the sake of his commander as the three stopped for a scolding.
“I would not speak ill of the King, Sir Aedan. He still has spied alive in the castle, skulking. One of them catches wind of your treasonous talk and it’ll be your head that rolls.” He placed his hand on Aedan’s shoulder.
“If my head was to roll, then let my name by forever etched on the blade of my execution!” Aedan joked as Tristan opened the door to the stairs that led to the tower and the trio made their way up to discuss what could by the last battle of their lives. A few hours of back-and-forth planning between the three passed with no noteworthy progress being made. From the Tower, Aedan watched the chaos inside the city unfold.
That bastard is attacking the city, Aedan realised as the gates to Ravengate were close to bursting. He knew it was only a matter of time until the city finally fell. Ravengate was under-manned, barely a thousand men left fighting in the city and on the walls against what was likely a four to one battle. The city would fall come midnight and then the people would be free, or the disease would destroy everything. He could hear the distant but audible sounds of a coming battle. Horse’s feet, the marching of bloodthirsty men, and a faraway scream. Thousands of ally soldiers came to Ravengate to free her people but were completely oblivious to the truth of the Red Death.
It was hard to not feel guilty when he could already hear the screams, the scores of commoners being killed during this attack despite Fenris’ claims of saving them from a tyrant, all whilst Aedan and his brothers hid behind the safety of castle walls. How could anyone have foreseen what would happen, would the result have stayed the same if they had seen where today left their beautiful city?
“Shall we begin?” Aedan asked, forcing himself to look down from the window at the ink and quill on the table. As one of the last remaining Royal Guard, he saw it fit to finish the entries of their fallen brothers. In that chaos the Red Death brought no one had deigned to give the fallen guards the honour they deserved in the Knights Chronicle.
One loud crash came through the entire keep as the rams broke through the gates to the city. Perhaps the city would fall quicker than he originally believed. A blessing for him, he thought. A second great thundering crash came from the gates again and louder cheers followed it soon after which made Sir Alexander jump from his seat.
“Maker’s Mercy, what was that?”
“The End,” Aedan declared, his voice dripping with despair as he placed down the quill after finishing the entries of their fallen brothers. “We’ll all be dead come morning if the gods are just.” His pessimism coming out like poison to the two men. “Prince Fenris’ allies will ruin the city just to get the King off of his throne, yet they don’t know what they’ve likely unleashed.” Swiftguard men screamed with the animalistic ferocity of bears protecting their young. The North Gate was the first to fall, men spreading throughout the northern half of the city. A small number were engaging with the City Guard, who held the line pathetically. Most of the men rode uncontested throughout the streets, looting, raping and murdering. It could be the only reason so many screamed and ran like rats away from the fighting towards the keep.
We mustn’t give up hope, Sirs.” Sir Tristan told them. The old knight grabbed his weapon and descended the stairs with Sir Alexander behind him. “Sir Aedan, do not leave the King’s side! Protect the Royal Family until we return!”
It had been abundantly clear that the defenders of Ravengate were severely outnumbered, and it was only a matter of time until the rebels reach the castle walls. Jasper could have avoided this if he had sent his son away to squire under his uncle like Aedan had suggested.
However much he wanted to voice his opinions, Aedan knew he had to hold his tongue and not voice his opinions in front of his King out of concern for his life, Aedan’s head would – No – he’d burn Aedan alive in the square as a warning to other traitors.
Another way, there has to be another way to plead to the King. Aedan told himself. Through writing? A message should serve him well enough! He quickly grabbed the ink and quill and he began to scribble down his message, thinking of what to say as he pried through his mind for the right words, it had never truly been his forte to write meaningful words, that had been the job of their Lord Commander. He begrudgingly began to write his letter to the King, words of any worth were best communicated through speaking in person. Aedan decided now was the time.
He stood up and strolled quickly out of the tower’s solar, looking for a messenger to send to the king. Aedan’s request was definitely simple. Asking Jasper for leave to make terms with the attackers and hopefully spare many lives, including his own. He shuddered, the disturbing thought at the back of his mind. He tried to shut it away, but he was a fool for trying to remain hopeful in such a hopeless situation. Jasper won’t listen, you know it. He’d burn this city to the ground to kill a disease that is already dead.
Jasper had dismissed most of his council because of them letting foreigners into his country which he believed spread the disease. The rest of his council died from said disease days after. But as usual, he kept his guards close out of paranoia. He’d also enlisted the help of Pyromancers as a last resort if the disease came close to breaking from the city. the final storm the King called it, and they’d burn the city to the ground to prevent the disease from spreading with the help of magic. Their leader, a man named Henrik, was fascinated with fire magic and would not disobey the king if he was asked to burn the city to the ground.
“I’ll have to kill Henrik... all of his men too. And if my hand is forced, King Jasper as well.” It was an incredible, shocking realization of what he had to do. A treasonous one. To kill a King, he had sworn to protect with his very life, going against every aspect of his morality to save the city from destruction. But the only alternative was the city being consumed by mage fire. It would be better to dispose of a few than an entire city falling to the flames. The Barrels of oil are everywhere, from the brothels to the markets and the tunnels under the keep itself... Sir Aedan had heard the word “Random” used more than once concerning the placement of pitch. “One spark and we’re all dead.”
It will not be so easy, Aedan thought. I need to get the situation in the throne room. Is it empty? Are there any soldiers inside, so loyal they’re willing to defend a psychotic old man? As Aedan pondered and pondered, he exited the tower and came down into the early afternoon sunlight. A middle-aged man appeared around the corner, dragging a wheeled cart filled with various fruits. He knew his face well.
One of Henrik’s messengers, thank the Maker.
He was clean-shaven and modestly dressed, and was quick to notice Aedan’s shining armour and cloak. “Good day, Sir Aedan,” he said, nodding respectfully.“ Is there any news on the progress of the battle?”
He’ll have to do, Aedan decided. “I’ll tell you, good man. However, I can only say on the condition you deliver a message to King Jasper for me,”
His voice was unusually calm but still firm.
“That can be done, Sir Aedan. I’d do anything, just please, let me inside Redmount Keep. It is the safest place!” His dark brown eyes were laced with fear. He wants shelter, thought Aedan. Understandable.
“If you deliver the message, you’ll be allowed to cower inside the keep.”
“What would this message be, Sir?”
“Just a word to His Grace the King. Tell him Sir Aedan has decided the best course of action is to make peace with the attackers, they need to understand why we shut the gates to everyone.”
The man looked afraid again, but he swallowed down his fear. “I will do as you wish, is that all Sir?”
“Yes, that is all. Return to me as soon as you can.”
The messenger nodded and sped off. His pace increased. It would help if I knew who else was in that throne room. But in that second, Aedan kept quiet. He could not be sure of this man’s loyalties. With Fenris sacking the city and closing in, Jasper is probably so paranoid he’ll turn his soldiers against me. Aedan never enjoyed having to think through his actions, an endless maze of court politics. Yet as of now, his actions not only meant the difference between his own life or death, but the lives of thousands of innocents. As well as the King. Just to think of killing the man I am sworn to defend... what have I become?
It was a lot of weight to put on a young Elf’s shoulders.
He re-entered the white tower and climbed back up the steps to make it seem like he was hard at work. To the abyss with surrender terms, these men want to be heroes and want to overthrow a mad tyrant. Again, he was deep in thought and staring out the window. The city was now an even more chaotic pit of battle, the sounds of battle becoming more prominent by the minute.
He lost track of time, staring blankly into the city.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door.
Aedan gulped. It could very well be Henrik, Aedan was in his tower, after all. Aedan would have to kill him. There was no other option.
“Who’s there?” Aedan’s voice was tense. He got up from the chair and grabbed his sword from beside the table, now ready for a fight.
“A message from the King,” The messenger’s voice responded.
He had returned!
Aedan opened the door a crack, and luckily it was indeed just the messenger and he stood alone. He exhaled and opened it completely. The dark-eyed man nodded respectfully and spoke. “His grace... demands you bring him the head of his treasonous brother, do this and he will give you lands and titles and legitimized as a Howe.”
It took all he had to keep a straight face at the prospect.
Jasper wanted me to decapitate his brother to forsake my vows to protect the Royal family... Aedan struggled to hide the look of disgust on his face. Yet he composed himself and held his tongue like he always had. The messenger continued to speak.
“His Grace also commands you to help defend the Keep at all costs, he will not tolerate surrender. He is alone with the left hand of the King. Every man is essential, Sir Aedan.”
Aedan’s heartbeat doubled as he made a terrible realization. That could only mean one thing.
He was finally doing it. Jasper was going to command the destruction of the city. He has to act now!
Aedan soon burst into a sprint, almost unconsciously, toward the throne room. “Stop!” The messenger called. “Can you let me into the Keep now!? Please, stop!”
Aedan barely heard the man’s pleading.
He dashed over the small bridge which connected the white tower to the rest of the keep and into the kitchens of the Small Hall. The kitchens had been raided, all the food taken from the cupboards and shelves. He almost slipped and fell because of some slippery substance, but kept his feet and pace.
The kitchens led to the Small Hall itself, a modest room which could accompany a hundred guests. At first glance, it was empty. Then, Aedan saw a young low born woman sitting on a table with a babe at her breast. The child was crying, almost aware of what has to come. “Sir!” The woman called after him. “The soldiers are nearing the gates! Do something!”
I am doing something,
Like the messenger, Aedan left the woman behind to be taken by destiny, whatever that was. He found the door which led under the hall that divided the keep in two. Aedan was then outside again, in the outer courtyard. Here, he saw the woman was right, Swiftguard men had to be close. There was a small collection of archers on the battlements, firing into the streets below. Sir Tristan and Sir Alexander commanding the men where Sir Tristan glimpsed Aedan.
“Sir Aedan! Get to the King!” Aedan could hear metal clashing and the screams of pain from beyond the walls. It won’t be long now.
“Heave!” A communal yell came from beyond the walls. It was the main gate to Redmount Keep, which was being smacked with a battering ram. There were
two iron doors on either side of the gate with a portcullis in between. If this is their plan, they’ll be there all day, he told himself.
Just as Aedan turned the corner to enter the Great Hall, it burst open. A man dressed as a common soldier came strolling out, shuffling quickly on his feet. Aedan almost passed him, not paying mind.
He almost let him leave, until he took a second glance at the man, the short blonde hair, brown eyes, almost black, mousy nose, and the strange limp he walked with. This could only be one person. Henrik. He kept his head down and his strides determined. He was heading to a Postern gate, about a hundred yards from the portcullis.
Aedan took after him, cutting him off as he got to the gate. He looked around one more time. Nobody watching? Good, nobody will see.
“Sir Aedan, I hope you’re not trying to desert our cause!” Said the Left Hand, he had a bright smile. “His grace wants you back in the throne room, you best not leave his side again!”
Aedan took a deep breath, doing his best to mask the fear inside him. He looked deep into Henrik’s eyes, almost to the soul of this mouse of a man. His tone was flat.
“Where are you going?”
His smile faded, Henrik sensed something was wrong, very wrong.
“Oh... uh, on the King’s business.” His voice was now ice cold. “Now step aside and let me pass.”
As Henrik attempted to move beside Aedan, and through the gate, he was once again stopped. “I cannot let you do that.” Aedan drew his sword quicker than a viper, giving the hand barely enough time to react to what was about to happen. Henrik’s jaw dropped in horror, realizing what was coming. For an instant, Aedan regretted it. Just for an instant. I am about to murder a defenceless man. Aedan had crossed swords once, with a spell sword during the black magic rebellion, but he had never enjoyed killing a man. Monsters were one thing they trained him to kill, but men were never his targets. No, this man has his defence Caches of the black pitch all around the city where one match could send the entire city to the abyss in an instant. He thought of everyone who died because of the Red Death; the men dying outside the walls of the keep at this moment.
Aedan flared with anger, providing himself with both the motivation and the momentum for a savage downward cut aimed straight for Henrik’s gut.
A messy and lethal blow.
Aedan had cut the man open from the breast to below the navel, blood pouring out almost like a waterfall. All Henrik could do was gasp before he passed from the shock and pain.
He couldn’t help but look down at the dead hand, to process what he had just done. Aedan immediately got a strange feeling in his stomach, like it was tightening. The man’s eyes were still wide open, empty. He... he sickly enjoyed it.
He sighed. Aedan walked slowly, as his mind felt as though he had cooked it a little. It isn’t like he hadn’t seen men die before. It always happened at tournaments, and during contracts on monsters and the Black Magic Rebellion. Several people he knew had been killed. He had been watching people die and burn for the past year now. This was no different.
“Heave!” It was the yell from the men handling the battering ram, which shocked Aedan back to reality. He looked back up to the battlements, to see if there were any more loyalists still fighting. There were a few still standing, but he couldn’t focus on them.
He quickened his pace and opened the great door to the Great Hall.
King Jasper was entirely alone in the room, except for the flaming torches that lined the hall. He paced back and forth in front of the throne. The King was talking to himself again, loudly and angrily. His dark green eyes, wild and feral, looked up to meet Aedan as he raced to meet his King.
“Sir Aedan! They’re traitors, all of them! The traitors want my city, but we will cleanse it of their filth and the Red Death!” Jasper hissed, and then he coughed. A nasty snot-filled cough. He spat it out. “My hand is about to give these traitors a warm welcome!”
He then cackled a somewhat sickening evil laugh. He was like a hag, just like the stories Aedan heard as a child. After a moment, Jasper’s smile left him, and he gave Aedan a deathly glare which almost made him shiver. He looked more like a common rat than nobility. His smell was atrocious; he probably hadn’t bathed in weeks now.
“I thought I commanded you to bring me my treasonous brother’s head! I want that bastard dead, that traitor, you’ll bring me his head or I’ll have you murdered like the rest!”
With that, Aedan felt something inside himself snap.
He may have swore my life to this man once. But not anymore. In that moment Aedan had forsaken his vows. As if on cue, Aedan noticed Jasper stared at him with a wild, hellish gaze. He was looking down at something. “Whose blood is that on your blade?”
At that moment, Aedan realized he’d forgotten to sheathe his sword. He was still holding the thing, stained with Henrik’s blood. I guess it doesn’t matter anymore. Far away Aedan could hear the voices and the clashing of steel. They’re just outside the Hall.
“Whose blood!?” He asked again. Did it matter now?
“Henrik’s.” Aedan’s voice was emotionless and plain, just like it had been before he gutted the Left Hand of the King. I feel like I’m losing myself in this city, going insane just like the King.
Aedan thought Jasper’s eyes couldn’t get any wider, but they went from dinner plates to bells from the church. He tried to run from Aedan to the throne. It was a crooked hobble, not too unlike Henrik’s way of running. Falling face-first onto the marble, Jasper seemed to have pissed himself, large drips of liquid coming out from under his robes. Maker the King has pissed himself, a man of his stature should die with some dignity.
No, he doesn’t deserve to die with dignity, Aedan caught up with him as he climbed the steps to the throne as if sitting on the chair would protect him from Aedan’s wrath. He wasn’t quick enough. Aedan grabbed him by the shoulder three steps up, turning him around to face the sword. Like Henrik’s lethal wound, the cut was swift and deep. A rivulet of blood streamed out from his neck and that was where King Jasper II, thirty-second Swiftguard King of Aster, fell and died. The eagle head crown of his ancestors fell to Aedan’s feet as the life drained from him, staining the tips of Aedan’s
white and black cloak. Aedan could do nothing but sit on King Jasper’s Throne as he awaited his fate, sword at the ready for another fight.
He would likely wait for Prince Fenris to arrive, what the new King would do once he saw Aedan on his throne the knight could only guess. Would they punish him for forsaking his vows? or would he be flogged through the streets until he reached the gallows? Or would the King grant him mercy and merely send him into exile?
His dying would please many people, his own family included would be delighted to hear of his execution.
He slumped down on the throne, sword hanging loosely in his grip as the adrenaline of what he had done quickly wore off. He struggled to slow his breathing down but eventually; it came to a nice slowed pace where he allowed himself a moment to relax.
This moment, however, didn’t last long for the thought of what would happen to the Queen and the child she would give birth to in a few days if the doctors were right. Fenris was better than Jasper, no one could debate that fact, but what would he do to secure his throne? Prince Duncan was dead, Princess Selene was dead too. The two heirs left by Jasper died before their sire, leaving them with Rowena’s child. The Queen was likely in childbirth and no one could be sure if the baby would survive long with the country knowing she is from Jasper’s seed.
If the child survives, then this assault on Ravengate would be for nothing in the eyes of Fenris and his men. He still would be second to a child and the throne would not be his. He’d be overshadowed by this child. Sheathing his sword, Aedan walked around the Old King’s body, which already began to smell.
“I have to make sure Rowena is okay.” She would likely be at the top floors of the keep if anywhere, there would be nowhere else for her to go. He rushed out of the doors and ran as fast as his feet would allow him in full place, he knew what kind of man Jasper was, and he worried that there could already be someone making their way to the Queen to kill her and the child.
He couldn’t let that happen. His own father would likely have objected, but Aedan couldn’t allow it. He heard the shouting above him, the last of the guards inside of the castle protecting the family. A small group of soldiers must have broken through the ranks to get here first. He reached the top of the stairs, sweat dripping down his face as he saw the men pushing their way into a room at the end of the hall. The man at the head of the group was the largest man Aedan had ever seen, with his strength behind them they broke the door down and charged into the room, the bodies of the remaining guards crushed under their feet as the shrieks of two women filled the hall as Aedan charged after them.
With the weight of his entire body behind him, Aedan knocked one soldier aside as he found the tall assailant, thrice the size of Aedan, holding one man up by their head. Whether the man was still alive, he could only hope. The man prepared to lift his sword up to strike at the Queen as she covered her belly to protect her baby in the room’s corner; he let out a scream as he rushed forward with all his strength and drew his sword. He swatted the man’s blow aside, saving the Queen and her unborn child. The man turned his attention to Aedan, and it didn’t take long for him to notice the medallion on his chest; the assailant was an Iron Knight, much like Aedan.
But why was he attacking the Queen?
Aedan didn’t think on it as the man began to flail him wildly, his expression that of a wild beast.
The soldiers backed away in fear as they forced Aedan to back away and defend himself. “Stop this madness!” Aedan shouted. The man ignored his pleas as he swung again. This knight had become a wild animal that had been denied its kill, and now it was going to take that wild ferocity out on Aedan. He was stronger than the night, his blows making Aedan’s wrists hurt from the shock, but Aedan was more agile even in his armour. He couldn’t defeat him in a straight-up fight, but maybe he didn’t have to.
With every swing, the man was spending more energy, getting slower and sluggish with his stamina gradually fading away with the attacks losing power with each swing. With each swing missed was a secret message to Aedan telling him that now he could connect. He was getting fatigued using such an unbalanced weapon and his fight up to the keep must have exhausted him beforehand, yet this still didn’t take away from how dangerous he truly was. He threw a wild swing that nearly took Aedan’s head clean off of his shoulders, but Aedan narrowly avoided it at the last moment. The man was now vulnerable for a split second which Aedan took advantage of, driving his sword through the armpit and blood-soaked his clothes when the blade was drawn from his wound and yet the man didn’t seem fazed. He swung again and Aedan struck the shoulder when he saw his opening, drawing blood again, and this time the wounds successfully sapped his strength.
“You will not harm her!” He screamed with conviction.
The man screamed and charged Aedan again, his attack sloppy and easily avoidable. Aedan struck him with the pommel of his sword with a hard swing to the jaw. The blow stunned him, allowing Aedan to slash at the back of his left knee. His sword sliced through bone and flesh like butter, the large man screaming in pain before finally dropping to the ground, unable to stand. Aedan thrust his blade through the man’s throat, leaving him to live the last moments of his life, choking on his own blood.
“Sir Aedan,” The Queen whimpered before screaming in pain as Aedan knelt by her side, clasping her hand. “It’s coming.” She whispered.
“Blankets! Now! He shouted, one soldier ran to grab blankets for the Queen whilst the others moved the goliath out of the room. He reached for her belly and felt the warm, wet sensation of blood. She was haemorrhaging, badly. Something was wrong, if she was to give birth right now she would not survive it.
“Please, Sir. Help me.” She pleaded. He nodded and tried to give her a comforting smile. What felt like an hour with the battle raging outside of the walls, Queen Rowena gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, thick black hair was already on her head as she came out, and her eyes were a beautiful, vibrant green, the first newborn Aedan had seen with such developed features already. With his hands now covered in blood, Aedan handed the child to the handmaid who had valiantly acted as midwife for the Queen.
Queen Rowena continued to bleed out. Something had gone wrong with the birth. Now, Aedan Howe was no midwife, but it didn’t take one to figure out what was wrong. They only had one handmaid, a girl named Dayna. This was something Aedan hadn’t thought about, a possibility that didn’t cross his mind in his plan to save the city.
A scream broke Aedan away from his thoughts, and he snapped back to reality. Nothing in his vows told him he was required to stay in this room. In the keep, even. The King was dead, and the city was safe with the rebels taking it back for the people. If he had been any other man, any of the other Royal Guard, he would have left the Queen to her fate. But that was inhuman. He was a protector of the people, and someone needed his help.
Aedan knelt down beside her, and her hand clutched him instinctively. Even dying, her grip was firm. It was a true shame that such strength had gone to a woman. If she had been born a man, she could have become a warrior if she so wanted, but the maker had a sick sense of humour and cursed her to a life of dresses, courtesies, and betrothals.
The King had been a fool to ignore his wife’s council, but Aedan knew Jasper ignored everyone’s council, but his blood boiled whenever thinking of that man. Perhaps if he had abdicated when his health began to decline, then this would never have happened.
“Sir Aedan,” She whispered, her voice weak. She didn’t have long, only a few minutes. From outside the room, her daughter’s wailing could already be heard. A weary smile crossed her face. “Let me see her... let me see my daughter.” Had the situation been different, Aedan likely would have denied her. The Queen needs to be taken away from this place. The child was no longer Rowena’s concern, but no matter where he stood before, he couldn’t deny her this much. He called to Dayna, who was holding the poor child, and watched patiently as she entered. The baby was swaddled in Aedan’s cloak. There had been little else to use, and it was old anyway. He wouldn’t need it where they were going. She handed him the child who continued to cry out and he, in return, handed her to Rowena.
As soon as the child was in her arms, she quieted down. Rowena was her mother after all, of course, she would find comfort in her arms. She hushed her daughter, rocking her slowly back and forth. The Queen was weak, and it surprised Aedan that she could still hold her. “Perhaps you would like to name her.”
“Is he here? Has he come?” There was no need to clarify who she meant. She was asking out of fear of either her husband or Prince Fenris.
“No. Your grace, the gods favour us today. Fenris has not breached the Keep yet. We’ll need to flee if you want your child to live.” Aedan told her.
She gripped his arm, pulling him closer to her. There was a desperation in her eyes. She knew it was almost time. Jasper was dead, the Royal Guard all but eradicated. The heirs fell in battle or taken by the Red Plague. All that remained was Queen Rowena, Aedan, his brothers in the Guard, Kyra and Queen Rowena’s daughter, who had no name.
“Promise me.” She began choking on her tears. “Promise me you will look after her.”
He felt she meant those words for Sir Tristan, more for the experienced Lord Commander of the Royal Guard. She was asking him to do his duty; she knew he would have carried it out regardless of if she asked for it. But she was dying, and a mother should have her last wishes for her children. He held her hand that was on his arm. “I promise, on the Maker himself, that I will protect your child until my last day.”
Rowena smiled, and the last of her life left her. She sagged back against the pillows, looking even more exhausted than during the birth mere minutes before. “I had hoped to see my daughter grow.” She let out a humourless laugh. “It is not nearly enough recompense for all that had happened already. But it hurts to know that the gods do not care.”
“My Queen, you cannot leave us. Not yet!” Her eyelids dropped. He knew that if she fell asleep, now she would not wake from it. “Your grace your daughter needs a name. Let her have one last gift from her mother. Please!”
Her eyelids opened wide. There was a surprised look in them. It was almost like she had forgotten to take her shoes off before bed rather than name her daughter before her death. Aedan had taken the girl back, afraid that in her weakened state, Rowena might drop her. With his help, she held her for the last time. She looked at her face, at her tuft of dark hair and her emerald eyes. She would look more like her mother than her father.
“Freya. Freya Morgana Swiftguard.” She finally murmured in a voice so low that Aedan had to lean in to be sure he heard it right. “Freya,” She repeated more firmly. He nodded.
“Freya,” He agreed with a grin. The girl fussed in his arms, and he thought of how the child would never be in her mother’s warm embrace again. It brought an ache to his heart. Hadn’t there been enough death and suffering from this war? This stupid war the King started because of his greed. Weren’t there enough orphaned children out there, that had no one? Did the gods have to add another to the list? Were they punishing the child, Freya, for a crime her parents had committed and not Freya herself?
Her grip with slackening, her fingers slipping away. “Aedan,” she breathed, voice a little more than a whisper. Desperately, he reached for her hand. It was futile; he was trying to hold on to her life, to keep her there with him.
With a last sigh, she let her head fall back. The light that had once glowed so brightly in her eyes, the light that had been her will to live and fight, burned out. Only darkness and an empty feeling were left. She was no longer the beautiful Queen who was too young to die; she was now just a corpse, another story to be told.
Aedan soon wept. How could he not in that moment? It was all too much; he had just killed his King and now the Queen had entrusted him to protect their daughter with her dying breath. He held a baby in his arms that would never know her mother or father, would spend most of her life running from shadows.
He didn’t know how long he sat there, holding her lifeless hand and her child, who cried now. They only broke him out of his tears when a firm and gentle hand caressed his shoulder. Looking away from the girl, he stared into the eyes of Sir Tristan. His commander.
Sir Tristan nodded when he saw Rowena dead and the child in Aedan’s arms. He knew he understood. His hand hadn’t left Aedan’s shoulder. He was looking down at the baby now, a silent question on his face.
“The Queen named her Freya before she passed on.”
“It is a beautiful name, and she will be a good Queen when the time comes.” He promised, though there was an unspoken thought between the three guards. They all believed and knew Jasper to be a good King, and he became a madman in his last days. They could only pray she does not follow in her father’s footsteps.
“The King is dead. Fenris will want her grace’s death, we should leave soon.” Aedan told them, Alexander and Tristan’s eyes widened in shock. “I did it.” He admitted, cradling the child in his arms. “I forsook my vows to protect my King with my last breath, I would have done anything he had asked of me but what he asked before I slew him... I couldn’t stand by and let it happen.”
He heard steel being drawn, and he expected them to end him there. All Tristan asked him was ‘why?’. Aedan turned to face the knight and took a deep breath.
“He wanted me to tell his mages to set fire to the city. Burn Ravengate to the ground to stop the disease from spreading.” Aedan got to his feet and handed the baby to Alexander. “If you believe it to be the right decision, strike me down and I will gladly accept that punishment.” The older knight sheathed his sword and held his tongue for a moment.
“The Queen will need all of us to protect her. There are things more important than what you did. Let us escape the city, and find passage to cross the sea, only then will we discuss what happens to you.”
Aedan nodded, not wanting to speak. There wasn’t anything he wanted to say. They had to leave Aster soon if they were to protect Queen Freya. Fenris would hunt them to the ends of the earth, but what the new King wasn’t aware of was this simple fact: The Queen had the Royal Guard as her protectors, and the three knights would keep her safe. Until the last breath left him.
They took passages underneath the castle to get through the city during the siege; it was lucky for them that few knew their way through the keep as they did, and because of this Aedan only encountered the odd beast in the sewer to fend off rather than legions of soldiers.
The knights took turns caring for Freya once they were free from the city, leaving through the sewers and out the gates during the chaos with the other civilians fleeing as the soldiers took Ravengate for Fenris. They fed the newborn goat’s milk they scavenged from the kitchens. There was nothing for the three grown men, but the days that it would take to bring Freya to a place of safety were manageable. They stole horses from the stables and rode for nearly a week at full gallop, Aedan was the one to hold the queen on the last day. She seemed most at ease when in Aedan’s arms; the knight fed her whenever she needed it. Despite how bad it was when she needed changing, Aedan seemed the least bothered by his duties to the Queen. Checking the skin of milk, Aedan quickly realised the milk would be empty soon, only having enough for a few more days, but thankfully they were only an hour’s ride from their destination.
Castle Blackwood. Home. Aedan thought.
He hadn’t seen the Grandmaster of the Iron Knights in a good few years, at least ten years. Alvis had led them for years, and this great man was the one who taught him how to swing a sword. He could only hope he held no hatred for him for leaving so suddenly. He needed to know why one of their own had gone after Queen Rowena, but he also missed the warmth of Alvis as he was the closest thing Aedan truly had to a father. The road was dusty, the summer sun hot on their heads, and when they stopped for the night, they would never stop for long.
They had to keep moving. Little Freya was asleep, resting in the crook of Aedan’s arm, his cloak still covering the child, and protected her skin from the summer heat. That was what she did for most of the day; she would eat, sleep and cry. By now, the knights were used to this cycle.
“Up ahead,” Sir Tristan called out, his voice dull and raspy from the road.
The Knights spoke little between one another, there wasn’t much to talk about. Aedan raised his head from where he had been gazing down at Freya, and a smile lit his face as the castle came into view. It was just as he remembered. Castle Blackwood held a beautiful view in the early morning sun, the walls as strong as they had always been and always will be. He hadn’t seen the walls in years, having served in the Royal Guard for a long ten years, but now he felt like a child returning home to his family after a long trip to the market.
As they neared, rides rode out to approach them. They stopped some feet away, shouting, “Halt!”
Aedan’s mind was on a rope that was close to the end, and he was sore and irritable from the long journey. So were the others. Rather than kindly greet them and ask for shelter, he called out to them, “Oh for- Step aside! Do you not recognise a brother of Iron when you see one?”
“Sir Aedan?” They asked incredulously, their faces ones of shock and surprise. No one had heard from Sir Aedan in years, so no one knew if he survived the war. It was as if they had seen a ghost.
“Yes!” He snapped, “Now are you going to keep me and my fellow knights waiting or are you going to get Grandmaster Alvis and let us in!?”
The men quickly moved aside, giving hurried, “Yes Sirs,” and “Sorry, my lord.” He didn’t have the time nor the strength to correct those who called him Lord. Instead, he and the other two urged their horses forward and entered Castle Blackwood.
Hours went by with them settling in. Aedan took to the wood just outside the Keep, looking for a place to rest his head away from the eyes of others. He held a rusted shovel in his left hand as he travelled through the woods outside the grounds. There was an uncomfortable itching sensation was gnawing at Aedan the entire journey there in the back of his mind, like a dog merely brushing against its owner’s leg to get their attention.
The sword in his possession was its purpose tainted, the core of its steel forever stained. The armour was false gold, and he wanted to be rid of them both. This blade was the tool he broke his oath with, it would serve as the reminder of his failure. He had to bury it, leave it forgotten in the ground to rust and wither away so he could continue with his life. Because of this, Aedan searched for a glade not too far from the castle. The four-towers of the Keep were still in view, even as deep as he was in the woods.
Perfect, he thought to himself.
Looking at the early morning sun in the sky, a beautiful orange blended in with the cool blue that would follow the rest of the day, Aedan took a minute to breathe.
He dug this hole outside the castle grounds, opposite a great oak tree that stood higher than the rest in the glade. He took off his gauntlets and thrust the shovel into the ground, shovelling the dirt into a pile to the right of him. The early sun ascended to noon by the time he believed the hole deep enough. Even though he had second thoughts on what he was about to do, he took off his armour. The golden chest plate of the Royal Guard glowed brightly as the sun reflected off of it.
He couldn’t bear to look in the reflection. This title once was for the honourable and the worthy, but now Aedan felt as filthy as the criminals who hold the title of knight. How can he call himself a knight after forsaking his vows?
Aedan dropped the breastplate into the dirt, followed by his helmet and gauntlets, sabatons falling in last. He unbuckled his sheathed sword from his side and drew the blade one last time.
“Who are you?” Aedan asked himself, unsure of such an answer to that question now. “What, are you?” He demanded from his reflection, but no reply came from the steel. He sheathed the sword almost as quick as it was drawn and tossed into the pile. The man spared no time in covering it with dirt, and one last time he stared at the dirt, burying what he used to be the voice ringing in his head one last time. “Who are you?
Aedan returned to his chambers covered in dirt, Tristan and Alexander were already settled into their room given to them by one of the Masters of the keep. For the first time in days the men were free from their armour, able to finally relax after the long year of constant fighting and stress.
As Aedan entered the room he saw Alexander was placing his armour on a mannequin provided for him to be cleaned later and Tristan was already cleaning his own with a barrel of sand beside him as he scrubbed his armour clean of dirt and rust, his armour had seen the most wear, scratches from battles from decades past adorned the chest plate.
The knight sat with the child, Freya was sound asleep in his arms and with a smile on her face, a toothless grin of utter innocence.
“What are we to do?” Sir Tristan asked, examining his old features in the reflection of his armour. “What were the Queen’s instructions?” The old knight continued to prod, placing his armour on the bed and stretching his joints. As old as he was, he needed that relief.
Aedan shrugged his shoulders, placing Freya in a makeshift crib beside his bed. He turned to his brothers and told them honestly. “She asked me to take Queen Freya across the sea and away from her uncle. With King Jasper dead, she is the heir regardless of what Fenris protests. We need to keep her safe across the sea, prepare her to rule. Then, when the time is right, we will return to Aster to help her reclaim her throne... if we’re alive to do so.” Because of this, the men were sure to be seen as deserters. “Alvis will give us what we need to cross the sea, food, water, milk, a change of clothes. We’ll have a wet nurse with us to help raise Freya.”
Sir Alexander spoke for the first time in days and it was out of anger, pure unfiltered rage. “If her grace is to be safe, we cannot keep addressing her as Freya. Surely Fenris will know it is her. We should have killed those men attacking the Queen instead of letting them go. We were foolish, you were foolish for not killing them all when you had the chance Aedan!”
Aedan ignored the young knight’s outburst. Instead, he sat there thinking of how they can protect her, and of her name. They would have to keep her safe from Fenris.
“Freya Morgana Swiftguard, correct?” Tristan asked, Aedan nodded and the old knight scratched his beard in deep thought. “Morgana sounds similar to Morrigan correct?”
“The Witch Morrigan?” Aedan asked, staring down at the raven haired child in his arms.
“You’d disgrace her grace with an unfavourable name?” Alexander declared, seeing the alias as distasteful.
“Honestly, it is so stupid that I believe it will work.” Aedan joked. “But we must remind ourselves that this child will most likely never learn flight, or be able to transform into a Raven.” The Old Knight’s smile fades when he looked at Aedan. His own thoughts were leagues away from where they just were. It was a strange feeling for the knight.
His thoughts were on the deed he had committed. Was killing Jasper truly the right choice? At the time he was certain it was the only choice to be made, but now with a clearer mind and a steadier hand, he doubted himself.
Tristan placed his hand on Aedan’s shoulder, snapping Aedan back to reality. “Aedan, you told us what happened with Jasper. The decision was a tough one we know, but how are we to trust that you won’t decide to do the same to our Queen?”
“You can’t know. I don’t know. I can only swear that I will honour my Queen’s wishes to keep her only child safe.” Sir Tristan simply stared at Aedan, leaving the knight unsure on if his commander believed him. But the two left their confrontation at that. Sir Tristan sat back down on his own bed and lay there, quickly falling asleep. In his old age, he slept most of the time. Some days Aedan and Alexander were scared the old Knight might not awaken.
Soon he left the room to find his mentor and father, passing through the spiralling staircase of the keep, catching glimpses of the new students, the forgotten children who will correct the mistakes of their predecessors. Seeing the eager faces of the new recruits in the keep only told Aedan they were doing just as well as they had when he left and he couldn’t help but smile, for even though so many of these children were left and unwanted, here they were all equal. He couldn’t help but wonder that had he not left to join the Royal Guard, Aedan would have trained a few of the new recruits and perhaps his life would be much different. Much simpler. But Alvis and Aedan had not left each other on good terms.
The two had differing ideas of honour. Aedan, as young as he was back then, believed that the Royal Guard is the highest honour he could have gotten. Being born a bastard meant he had nothing to inherit. Alvis saw the Royal Guard as little more than a group of thugs, men who abuse their power over the people.
Ascending to the top of the great keep to Alvis’ study, Aedan had hoped to spend a bit of time alone with his old mentor, to ask forgiveness and to find answers.
The walls of this keep were old, older than Aedan, older than anyone else who walked in its splendid halls. If one stood alone in the halls, making nary a squeak, one could swear they’d heard the whispers of those who came before, the knights who first set foot inside as Hunters. Reminiscing of years gone by, Aedan fell into an old habit of one foot on one tile on the walk there, reminiscing on how as a child that this superstition was needed. It was silly, but it was a fun habit.
It wasn’t long before Aedan found himself outside Alvis’ door. Two enormous doors made of stone that was darker than the walls of the Castle, but it was warm to the touch, almost as though the heat was coursing through the black stone.
“He ain’t in there, boy,” Aedan heard a gruff voice behind him.
Turning to face the source, Aedan was met with the imposing frame of Master Elsheer.
Elsheer was a great mountain of an Elf, towering over Sir Aedan by about half ahead. One needed only look into his eyes to know the centuries of battle the man had endured. He was blind in one eye, from the stories it was during his time as a hunter where a drake damn near took the man’s eye out with its claw, but the old man returned the favour by plunging his axe into its heart. His armour wasn’t like anything Aedan had seen before, it was black like Iron but it had been his armour for hundreds of years, telling him it was made of something more. Rumours claimed that the armour stopped the old Elf from feeling pain, and that was why he has lived for so long. Aedan merely believed that he was as hard as a coffin nail.
“Where is he then?” Aedan asked, leaning against the door more casually. “Courtyard? Smoking in the woods with the wildlife?” He joked, even chucking at the thought of his mentor smoking a pipe in the woods with the Stags.
“No, nothing such as that. The Master is in the library, giving some of the more academic students lessons on some different breeds of monsters.” Elsheer told him, scratching his beard out of boredom. Aedan had nothing but respect for Elsheer, nothing but admiration. He hoped that when he reached the same age as him, he was as wise or as powerful. An unlikely outcome, but he was hopeful.
“Thanks, Elsheer,” Aedan told the older Elf, patting his back whilst he passed his friend to find Alvis. Descending the steps of the Keep, Aedan followed his gut. Listening for the sound of his master’s voice. Gruff, but caring.
Being alone in these walls again gave Aedan the time he needed to clear his mind and truly contemplate whether he did the right thing that day. For every reason he found that told him he was right, another reason would appear to tell him he wasn’t.
Jasper was going to burn the city, yet Aedan only needed to kill Henrik to stop the pitch from being lit.
Freya will make a better Queen, yet Fenris now sits upon his family throne.
He beat himself up over what he did. Unable to conclude the thoughts that troubled him, he put them in the back of his mind when he reached the entryway for the library. Rounding the last corner into the lower level, Aedan took in the sight before him with amusement.
His old friend and mentor Alvis, the oldest Elf of the Knights of Iron, slayer of innumerable monsters and trainer of countless young warriors over the course of a long life, as well as one of the best warriors Aedan had ever known, was snoring in his chair sleeping like an old miner after finally retiring. At his outstretched feet, dozens of books were scattered around- some stacked, some strewn about, one even left open on the wolf pelt rug. A half-eaten apple and a doodle of a Lesser Vampire on a piece of scrap paper completed the image of a lesson cut short. ‘Old man’s fast asleep...must have taken their chance to escape... of course, those boys did.’ Aedan walked past Alvis’ still slumbering form and out onto the balcony. Looking down into the courtyard, he spotted all the students training in the courtyard. Tackling the pendulum course to aid their footwork. Aedan’s least favourite method of training.
“Guess everyone just prefers practice to theory...”
“Hm? What?” Alvis jumped awake. Aedan turned to back to Alvis, laughing as the old Elf rubbed his eyes.
“Time to wake up, all-powerful master,” he addressed Alvis sarcastically.
Alvis sat up. “Dammit... Had three disciples taking notes on Vampires then the little rats got me talking about Ghouls and the undead.” He rubbed the side of his head, “Wanted to rest my eyes a bit.”
“Huh. Still making the students read that relic?” Aedan asked, pointing to the tome as thick as his own armour.
“Brian Flair’s books lack... well flair it’s true,” Alvis began with a chuckle. “But he’s reliable. Not like the horse shite they print nowadays.”
Alvis stood from his chair and joined Aedan at the balcony. “They’re sparring with each other without a teacher, right?” he asked rhetorically clearly hearing the same grunts as his fellow warrior. He looked down at the arrogant students and sighed. “How many times do I have to tell them? Don’t train without the instructors! It only embeds your errors!”
“None of us listen. We laughed in your face every time you told us that... but how many of us died because we didn’t listen?” Aedan asked.
“Too many, Aedan. Too many of my children, my students, fell because of ignorance and arrogance.” Alvis thought back to the many students he has trained and lost. But he kept smiling.
Aedan could only look at him and admire his master. He was a little taller than Aedan, but still shorter than Master Elsheer. His face was covered in thick black hair with his beard separated with copper rings to give him a more warrior-like appearance, with a red ribbon to tie his hair back. The oldest warrior Aedan had ever met and more a father to him that his actual father. Alvis was the father of all the Iron Knights.
“Sir, this isn’t a... Social visit. I need your help, father.
“Father? Been a long time since I heard that from you, boy.” Alvis spoke with a smile. “I thought the Royal Guard weren’t allowed to have families. Thought you were too good for us.” Alvis told him, sitting back down on his chair with a slight stagger to his knee. He was trying to hide his pain. However, Aedan had heard the wince and remembered the day his master’s claws were clipped, like that of an old Wolf.
“That wound still giving you trouble?” Aedan asked, resting on a desk opposite Alvis, watching him with the utmost concern.
Alvis let off a forced chuckle. “Well, you take a spear to the back of your leg, then ask me how it feels,” Alvis said with a grimace, unable to hide what he felt with a ruined leg. “It doesn’t hurt, not any more at least. But I can’t fight, not like I used to, never again” Alvis rubbed his right knee as he sat. Alvis was once the greatest warrior Aedan knew, he was a man Aedan both respected and feared like no other. “Now what can I-”
“The King is dead.” Aedan began, unable to look his master in the eye out of shame of his own failure. “And Queen Rowena is dead as well.” Aedan cut him off with that statement. “My brothers and I have his daughter with us. We need to cross the sea away from Fenris.” Aedan told him truthfully. Alvis’ face grew as white as the snow, and Aedan’s palms began to get clammy as he crossed his arms over his chest. “If you can provide us with travel, no matter how small the boat is, I will be eternally grateful. This child needs to survive. I promised the Queen to keep her safe.”
Alvis scratched his beard, playing scenarios in his head before addressing the man in front of him. For a moment the old master didn’t see the Royal Guard in front of him, but he saw the scared child that was left on his doorstep so many years ago. Alvis nodded.
“You’re right, Aedan. She needs to survive.” He made eye contact with the Knight even when he tried to look away. “Why not leave her here with us?” Alvis asked Aedan. It was a suggestion that could work. She would be protected by the Iron Knights until she was ready, and with a library of knowledge for all the scholarly needs that she required. The keep was out of reach of even the King, but Aedan had a gnawing fear that Fenris was not one to care about laws and traditions.
Aedan pondered on the suggestion. It truly was temping for him. “Please father, just give us passage with The Ice Wolf and we’ll be on our way,” Aedan explained. “Will you allow us this, Father?”
The old warrior gave Aedan an accepting nod before getting to his feet and picking up his cane and hobbled across the room, cane echoing through the now quiet library. “Come with me,” Alvis motioned for Aedan to follow him. The old knight obliged and tailed after him. “You have a long journey ahead of you, Sir Howe.”