Holy Avenger

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Chapter 24

The Fiondan soldiers and what remained of the Rune Knights were rushing about carrying out orders being screamed at them by their superiors. Keon had just been outfitted in heavy chainmail and given a sharpened steel long sword by the fort’s quartermaster. After making sure that Azzara would be alright, he had approached the fort commander and requested to join in the defence. The commander seemed to be overjoyed by the request and immediately sent him to the quartermaster to be outfitted.

Now Keon stood in the courtyard and watched as the army prepared to defend against the coming siege. He didn’t know what he should be doing. The commander had not given him any orders besides to see the quartermaster. A hand suddenly gripped Keon’s shoulder, and he spun around. Standing behind him was the man with brown hair who saved their lives.

“I heard that you volunteered to join the defence effort,” the man said to him “That is a noble thing.”

“With all due respect my lord, I don’t think that it is a noble thing.”

“Oh? Why so?”

“If it weren’t for you we would have all died. Now the empire is attacking this fort. I can’t just sit by while other men fight and die to protect us. And…”

“And what?”

“I want to be the one to protect Azzara.”

The man smiled at Keon “Spoken like a true knight.”

“I am not a knight. I am Keon from the village of Jesk in Gillia.”

“Well met Keon. I am Ser Bealon, acting Lord-Commander of Fiondan’s Rune Knights.”

Keon blinked. He knew this man must have been a rune knight because of the armour he wore.

“It’s an honour,” Keon said “I’m sorry about Ser Vallarie. She was a good woman and a strong knight. She didn’t deserve to die that way.”

“You knew her!?”

“She saved my life. She didn’t have to put herself in harm’s way like that for a complete stranger. I will forever be grateful.”

Bealon looked at the ground with glazed eyes “She was very special to me. When this war ended we were supposed to…but it doesn’t matter. I made her a promise that I intend to keep.”

“What Promise?”

“That I would win this war.”

“I made a promise to her too. That I would protect Azzara no matter what.”

Bealon smiled and clasped Keon’s forearm “Then we shall not let her down, my friend!”

Keon gripped Bealon’s forearm in turn and nodded. Suddenly a horn sounded in the distance. A Rune Knight came rushing toward them.

“Lord-Commander! The empire is advancing on the walls! We’re under attack!”

Bealon cursed. He gave orders to the knight and then turned to Keon “There are men on the walls, I want you to join them. If any imperials get up that wall, I want you to send them crashing down! The rest of us will defend the courtyard!”

Bealon rushed toward the castle proper. Keon’s heart was pumping, and anxiety had begun to kick in. He drew his sword and ran up the stairs to the ramparts. Fiondan soldiers lined the walls and shot arrows at the advancing Imperial army. Keon looked over the wall, and his heart dropped. The Imperial military looked like an ocean of steel, various siege engines rolled slowly toward the walls. There were three catapults, three siege towers, and a reinforced battering ram for the gate.

The catapults came to a stop and prepared to fire. Giant rocks flew over Keon’s head and smashed against the walls of the castle. Keon was worried about Azzara, but all he could do was ready his sword and wait for the first siege tower to reach the ramparts. Fiondan soldiers had suddenly run to Keon’s side. More soldiers had grouped up on parts of the battlements where the other two siege towers would stop. The towers suddenly stopped, and a ramp fell onto the wall. Imperial soldiers rushed out of the tower. It was time to fight.

The first Imperial rushed toward Keon with his sword raised. Keon managed to block the blow with his sword, but the force of the attack knocked him back. He scrambled back to his feet and watched as the Fiondan soldiers clashed with the Imperials. Similar battles were taking place where the remaining two towers had stopped. Keon held his sword up as he stood behind the Fiondan soldiers. It wouldn’t be long before the Imperials broke through the line. His hands were shaking, and his breathing was heavy.

More rocks were being catapulted at the fort, and the rampart had started to shake. Keon stumbled and then looked up. The line had broken, and the Imperials were flooding in from all three siege towers. Three Imperial Soldiers were rushing toward him. Keon swung his sword hard against one of them. The soldier blocked, but the force made him fall back and slip off the wall, sending him crashing to the ground. A second Imperial soldier slashed at him, but Keon managed to dodge the blade just in time. He thrust his long sword into the Imperial’s belly and let go of the hilt as his enemy fell to the ground, dead.

He was now unarmed as the third imperial prepared to deliver the killing blow. Keon closed his eyes and waited for death, but it never came. Another rock had catapulted against the rampart and gave in. Keon fell to the ground with the rubble. He felt as though his entire body had broken. He opened his eyes and struggled to see through blurred vision. He could hear the sound of battle as though he were underwater. He tried to lift himself up, but the pain would not allow him to. He turned his head to look at the courtyard. The remaining Fiondans were engaging the Imperials. Just outside of the castle Keon had spotted him. The white-haired General who had attacked them. He had Azzara on his shoulder and ran down a stairway that led to the dungeon. Keon forced himself up. He had to save Azzara from that fiend. His body cried out in protest as Keon stood up. He limped toward the staircase slowly and picked up a sword on the ground. The Imperials were too preoccupied with killing the Fiondan soldiers and did not pay much attention to him as he got closer to the stairs.

Just as he reached the stairs, an imperial had rushed toward him. Keon ducked as the soldier swung at his head. He slashed at the soldier’s leg and thrust his sword into the Imperial’s chest, killing him. He kicked the dead soldier back to free his sword and continued down the stairs.

Just before he could reach the end of the stairs, he heard a scream. It sounded like a man screaming in pain. He ran faster and stumbled into the dungeon. The white-haired man was kneeling on the ground with his hand on his ear. Next to him was a torn, bloody ear. Keon looked at Azzara lying on the ground. Her mouth was covered in blood. He rushed toward the Imperial General with his sword raised, the man turned quickly and raised his hand. Keon went crashing into the wall.

“KEON!” He heard Azzara scream.

He felt dazed, and the pain he felt before had intensified. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he gritted his teeth trying to bring the pain under control. Several figures rushed into the dungeon. Ser Bealon and two rune knights, with King Algon behind them.

“You’ll pay Marcus!” Bealon shouted as he charged at the Imperial general. The two Rune knights joined him in the assault with Algon supporting them from behind with magic. Keon forced himself up, he screamed as the pain in his body was becoming unbearable. He needed to get Azzara out of the way. He ran up to her and picked her up in his arms. She instantly wrapped her long slender arms around his neck and held him tight. He carried her behind some barrels to protect themselves from the battle.

The battle was fierce. Rather than a fight with swords, the entire dungeon shook with the force of magic. Keon looked over the barrels and saw the General going toe to toe with all four of his attackers. He was so strong it was ridiculous. Azzara had suddenly nuzzled her face against his neck. His face flushed. Azzara was not someone who gave up control quickly. But at this moment she allowed herself to be vulnerable and put her life in his hands. He was not about to let her faith be misplaced. He would save her even if it meant his own death.

From where they were hiding, Keon saw a way to get past the fighting and up the staircase that led out of the dungeons. He had to be careful not to get caught in the crossfire. He sprinted with Azzara in his arms. His body ached with each movement. It reminded him of the first night he met Azzara. Like the first time, he would endure until he got her to safety. He kept his head low and raced toward the base of the steps. Just as he took his first step up, a tall man in elegant black armour stood in his path. He had long blond hair and wore a stern expression. Keon stepped back, and the man walked straight past him. One of the Rune knights were already dead, and the General laughed as the newcomer walked toward him.

“Tarius!” he exclaimed “Good timing! These three were giving me a hard time. But with you at my side, we’ll be able to end this war in one fell swoop.”

The man named Tarius drew his sword and pointed it at the General “Get out of here” he told King Algon “I’ve come to kill you, Marcus. I will suffer you to live no longer.”

“Bealon! We’re retreating!” Algon ordered as he ran toward the steps, pulling Keon’s arm as he walked up the steps. Bealon and the remaining knight followed suit.

“I won’t allow it!” Marcus shrieked. A purple light formed on his palm and he threw it straight at King Algon. Tarius swung his massive sword, cutting the purple light in half.

“Do not ignore me, Marcus! Your death is nigh!”

Keon followed King Algon up the steps with the two knights behind them. When they reached the top of the stairs, they stopped. The battle was reaching its conclusion. The Imperials were taking charge of the courtyard as the Fiondan defenders fell one after the other.

“Come, quickly! Follow me” Algon said as he ran toward the stables. Bealon ran beside Keon. “Where are we going?” Keon asked him.

“The King knows a secret passage that will get us out of this fort. This battle is lost. We must regroup at the capital!”

“Bealon!” Algon shouted “Horses! Meet us outside with them!”

Bealon took the other knight and raced towards the stables while Algon led Keon through a narrow passage. There was a door on the ground. Algon used a key to unlock the door and ran down the steps. Keon followed and found himself in a dark passageway. Algon lit a torch and led the way through the passage.

“This is convenient,” Keon said suddenly

“It was created specifically for this occasion. If a member of the royal family found themselves stuck at this fort during a siege, they would escape through here. It was last used one hundred years ago when we were at war with Gillia.”

They came to another set of steps at the end of the passage. Algon walked up and unlocked the door at the top. Keon followed Algon through it and found himself outside. They were on the outskirts of the fort. In the distance, two men on horses raced toward them. Each held the reigns of another horse. Ser Bealon and his knight rode up to them. Bealon dismounted and helped King Algon onto one of the horses. The other knight rode up to Keon stretched his arms to grab Azzara onto his horse. Keon tried to pass her to him, but she refused to let go. Bealon came rushing toward them “Give her to me and mount, Keon”. This time Azzara allowed Bealon to take her as Keon Mounted his horse. Bealon passed Azzara to him once he was mounted. He made Azzara sit in front of him with her legs swinging on the right side of the horse. Her head lay on his chest and her hands gripping his forearm tightly.

King Algon started to gallop forward, and the rest followed. Keon looked back one last time. Smoke and fire rose from the crumbling fort. Fiondan’s last line of defence, Fort Arlcliff, had fallen. But Azzara was safe, and that was all that mattered to him.

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