Vallarie reined in her chestnut stallion and squinted into the distance. The gold spires of Fiondan’s grand capital could be seen clearly. It would take her a half day to reach the city gates. She spurred on her companion through the kingdom’s main road. Getting passed the Fiondan/Gillian border was no easy task. The Imperials had closed off the gate and were not allowing anyone through. She had tried to go around the gate but would have to cross a deep lake to get through to the other side. Vallarie, of course, was a Rune Knight. She had mastered the art of rune magic and was quite proficient in it due to her ties to the Fiondan royal bloodline. She had used her powers to easily walk across the lake and plant her feet onto Fiondan soil. At the first village that she had passed through, Vallarie had purchased a chestnut brown stallion from a horse-trader. It was more expensive than she would have liked, but she had no choice. She needed to get home quickly. There was a war to fight, but more importantly, she had to receive judgment from her brother, the king.
Vallarie charged toward the capital without slowing down. The sun was setting, and she had no time to waste. As the sun set, Vallarie caught the city gates in her sight. Once she was through, she was met with a battalion of Rune Knights led by Ser Bealon. Vallarie slowly dismounted while keeping eye contact with the knight-captain. She walked toward him, her head held high, and stopped so close that she could feel his breath on her lips. Ser Bealon did not flinch nor did he show any emotion.
“Lord Commander,” he said suddenly “The king wishes to see you immediately. You will come with us.”
Bealon’s tone was not aggressive, yet the authority in his statement was plain. None of the knights, including Bealon, had moved to restrain her.
“I’ll follow your lead,” she said.
Bealon led the procession through the city. Very few people had stopped to gawk at the Knight-commander being led to the king for judgement. Most of the citizens that Vallarie could see were frantically moving about the city to get from one place to another. No one stopped to chat or browse the wares from the shop windows.
They are afraid, Vallarie thought. War was coming to Fiondan, and they were unsure of where the result would leave them. War meant higher taxes, appropriation of the kingdom’s resources by the military, and the conscription of young men and boys into the royal army.
If they believed the rumours to be true, they would blame her for the predicament that they now find themselves in. Would King Algon believe her story? Would he blame her for bringing war onto their doorstep? Anxiety had begun to build up in her chest as they reached the massive golden gates of the Royal Palace.
As the procession reached the large oak doors of the throne room, the escorting knights had stopped and stood at attention on either side of the hallway. Ser Bealon knocked on the handsome door and said: “Your Highness, I have brought the Knight-commander.”
“Enter” a voice came from behind the door.
Bealon opened the door and stood aside as Vallarie walked passed him into the throne room. Bealon closed the door as he left and all was quiet.
The room was well lit but devoid of any people besides the king sitting on his throne. It was just the two of them. Algon looked tired. His eyes were bloodshot, and his eyelids seemed only to be half opened. Preparing for this war must have given him little time to rest.
Vallarie walked closer to the throne and dropped down to one knee, planting her fist to the ground and bowing her head “Your Highness! Forgive me!”
“Knight-Commander Vallarie” Algon thundered. As tired as he looked, his voice remained powerful and full of authority.
“War has found its way to Fiondan! You will fulfil your duty as Knight-commander by taking the bulk of the knights and marching to the city of Pollian! You will defend it with your life! The Empire will strike there first! You MUST reinforce it before they attack!”
Vallarie looked up at the king in surprise. She had expected questions, accusations, perhaps imprisonment or some other form of punishment. Instead, the king had ordered her to join the front line in her capacity as Knight-commander.
Vallarie stood up and bowed to her waist “I will go immediately your highness. On my honour, the Imperials will not have Pollian!”
Algon nodded his head slowly “Go on then. I have much work to attend to.”
Vallarie gave one final bow before turning around and walking toward the exit.
“Vallarie” Algon suddenly called.
Vallarie stopped immediately with her back still turned to the king.
“You went in search of proof that the one you call ‘sister’ yet lives.”
Vallarie remained silent. Was he about to chastise her?
“I know not if you had found what you were seeking. But I do ask that you do not give me a reason to search for signs of my own sister’s well-being.”
Algon could not see the tears rolling down her cheeks. She was grateful for that. It was the first time he had acknowledged her as his sister. It had filled her with an ocean of warmth and happiness she had never felt before.
Without a word, Vallarie exited the throne room and made her way to her chambers to prepare.
Vallarie stood in front of the mirror in her chamber as her squire outfitted her in her official armour. Glenn, the only female squire in all the kingdom, tightened the straps of Vallarie’s armour firmly. A beautiful white armour with gold linings.
“Thank you, Glenn.”
“Just one more thing my lady.”
Glenn wrapped Vallarie’s red and gold cape around her shoulders and tied the knot in the front. Glenn took a step back to admire her handy work and smiled at her mentor.
“This is the first war for either of us. Are you prepared?” Vallarie asked as she strapped on her sheath.
“I am ready. I will ride into battle with the northern kingdoms’ only woman knight! Imagine the songs they will sing of us when it is over!”
Vallarie pushed her rune blade into its sheath and fingered the pommel. “I would rather we live to see the next sunrise.”
Glenn, in her leather armour and broad sword slung across her back, nodded gravely. A sudden knock on the door had made the two women jump out of their bleak thoughts. Glenn opened the door to reveal Ser Bealon standing on the other side.
“Ready the horses Glenn. I will be there shortly” Vallarie instructed.
Glenn bowed and curtsied Bealon before leaving and closing the door behind her.
Ser Bealon was dressed in a fresh green tunic and stood with his hands behind his back.
“I wish I could ride with you and fight by your side,” He told Vallarie.
“The kingdom needs you here,” Vallarie said “You need to take charge of the remaining knights and fulfil my duties while I’m gone. And if I do not return-“
“You will return! If anyone can defend us against the imperial threat, it is you! I believe in you.”
Vallarie gave Bealon a warm smile to show her appreciation for his faith in her. Bealon looked at the floor and began to flush red. It was a reaction she was not expecting of him.
“Vallarie…When this all over, I wish to go for a walk with you around the royal gardens.”
It was Vallarie’s turn to flush red. Bealon was asking for her permission to court her.
“And, if it pleases you, perhaps you would wear a dress? Of course, you won’t have to-“
“When this is all over, I would be glad to walk with you wearing a dress.”
Bealon sighed in relief and returned Vallarie’s warm smile. “Then I shall wait patiently for your return. Show those imperials what it means to be a Rune Knight.”
Bealon opened the door of the chamber and waited for Vallarie to exit before closing the door behind him.
Vallarie marched with purpose through the halls of the royal palace. Her brother had finally acknowledged her as his sister, and Ser Bealon had finally done what she was waiting for him to do for so long. All that was left to do now was win this war.
Vallarie met Glenn at the royal stables. They mounted their horses and rode out of the city. As they exited through the main gate of the royal capital, Vallarie came into view of three-hundred mounted rune knights. The knights parted to make way for their commander to ride to the front. Once at the vanguard, Vallarie raised her hand to signal that the company should march.
Three hundred rune knights and their squires marched forth toward Pollian. Vallarie led them, and her resolve was steeled. She would win this war, she would protect her people and her king, and she would trust the young boy to find her beloved Azzara.
The army marched for three hours. Vallarie Estimated that it would take five more to reach Pollian. An army of this size moved slowly. She could only hope that the imperial army moved slower than they did. Vallarie suddenly halted. Vallarie’s second in command raised his hand to signal the rest of the procession to stop as well.
“Lord Commander,” the knight said, “Is something amiss?”
Vallarie narrowed her eyes as she felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise. The air was tense. The horses had become restless while their riders tried to soothe them.
“Something is not right,” Vallarie said softly. She drew her sword.
“To arms!” her second in command shouted. Every knight and squire drew their weapons and looked around anxiously.
Suddenly the ground in front of Vallarie had opened up, and grotesque creatures had begun to emerge. They shrieked, growled and roared. The sight was frightening. The creatures charged at them without warning.
Vallarie could only watch in shock and terror as only one thought crossed her mind before the first creature fell upon her. We are doomed.