His quick footsteps resounded across the empty corridors. It was almost unbelievable how everything had changed. There were no more giggling from the Court Ladies at every corner, or gentlemen dressed in flashy silky garments. Now only silence inhabited the big palace and when it was broken it wasn’t with the rustling of satin, but with the loud sound of heavy boots against the white marble floor.
The guard opened the door to grant him passage the moment he saw him, ignoring such formalities as announcing his arrival. All that had ended when he’d bravely, or insanely, decided to stay behind and help with the Kingdom’s defense.
The man inside the room currently reporting on the defense of the city grew quiet and the old King, dressed in the ceremonial uniform of the Black Knights, a thin golden crown circling his forehead, looked up at him.
“Your Majesty,” he greeted the man bowing his head and Endio turned to the Knight that had been interrupted by his arrival.
“Salnar was just telling me about what happened on the walls. That this … Dragon … really exists, and how it was the cause of yesterday’s panic and confusion.”
“So it is, Your Highness. It was an humongous red animal, with fiery eyes and dark fumes rising from its nostrils,” Heric provided, trying to remain composed at the memory of the events of the day before. After the terrifying vision he’d witnessed he’d spent the rest of the day unable to produce a single coherent thought, much less try to explain what had happened. Thank the heavens he hadn't been the only one rendered to such an incoherent state, most of the men stationed on the walls having suffered from similar effects.
“It was truly a horrific sight!” the Knight added. “According to the White Knights, it would seem these beasts are able to induce a deep, petrifying fear in any living creature standing in the proximity of their presence. It’s an uncontrollable kind of fear that will take over the bravest of hearts.”
“And yet our biggest threat, our certain defeat, this … beast … simply left?” Endio asked in clear disbelief and Heric nodded.
“So it seems. It flew away right after the first attack, when we were sure everything was lost. And there hasn’t been a single sight of the red creature since then. Which is good. It allowed us to immediately start repairing the watch tower that was practically destroyed. However, the fact that the army camped at our doors hasn’t moved since then leaves us … apprehensive. We fear they may be waiting for the creature’s return.”
“I see … And what do our White Knights have to say about that?” Endio asked and the Dark Knight shrugged, apparently resigned with the poor information they had on the matter.
“They don’t tell us much. Only that something must have called the beast’s attention towards west, which means that something else must have raised the Lord of the Northern Armies’ interest. And well, needless to say that most men believe that this was somehow Prince Elian's doing, Your Majesty.”
Endio sighed and looked out the window. He clearly remembered Serafan’s words and, although he wished to keep his Kingdom and all its people safe, the fact that the recent events might mean that Serafan’s objective had been accomplish left him feeling uneasy and divided. He didn’t know what kind of jewel the Lord of Morianor was looking for, nor what it could do in his hands. However, from what little he knew about Serafan, he was sure that nothing good could come out of the concretization of his plans, no matter what they might be. Keeping that in mind he couldn’t help considering that maybe the sacrifice of one Kingdom wasn’t such a high price to pay, if that were enough to thwart his plans. On the other hand, although the attack on Mithir had been halted, the presence of the enemy’s forces camped right outside their door might be evidence that he still hadn’t found what he was looking for.
“Elian … Well, then. Keep watching our ‘friends’ outside. You may be right in your assumptions, but it’s better to expect any possible outcome. I may be wrong, but from what I’ve been told I’d say these men aren’t here in search of a glorious battle, but instead expecting to earn some good coin. Pillaging, that’s what they’re interested in. And although I’m certain that their commanders maintain an iron grip on their men, it was never a good idea to lay a plate of food in front hungry men and tell them no to touch it. So it’s better to remain vigilant.”
“Please, rest assured, Your Highness” the Knight assured him and, bowing, left the room.
“Lord Heric,” the King called him as he too was about to leave. “As I came to understand there were two young girls in your group, when you first arrived from Everlyn, none of which left with Lady Dana to Leips. Am I wrong?”
“Well … It’s true that two girls traveled in our group when we escaped Everlyn. But there’s not much I can tell you about their present whereabouts.”
“I see. But you can tell me … did Lidya remain in Everlyn, and was she alive when you left?”
“Yes, Your Majesty. She wanted to stay behind and nothing or no one could convince her to leave with us. As I understood, she strongly believed that she could earn us some time, so that we could safely escape …”
“And her daughter …? Allana …”
Heric looked at him, the lie hanging from his lips, but stopped himself. The man in front of him looked old and tired. He could still be considered to be in his prime, should one take only his age into account, but his soul was too spent, his eyes almost listless, the same kind of dead gaze he remembered seeing on Lidya’s face. Why lie to him now? What harm could it do telling the truth? They’d probably never see them again anyways. Not Allana, nor Elian, nor any of the Knights that had left with the Prince. And maybe knowing that his sister’s child had lived, that she’d been in his palace for a short while, would bring him some kind hope, if not happiness …
Endio lowered his gaze and took a deep breath.
“Yes … I suspected as much,” he whispered and Heric gazed at the man unable to understand. “In any case what good would it do to keep them apart after all the evil that befell Everlyn, and Mádon and all the other Eastern Kingdoms? It’s like fearing death every time we go to bed and every time we raise in the morning, feeling it caressing your face whenever the wind blows from the North. Thank you Heric … you may go now.”
Heric bowed and left the room feeling slightly confused, but quickly decided to leave the rumblings of the old King at that. His men needed him. They had learned a lot from the Knights of Mithir about the ways of combat and strategic defense. Only now could he clearly see how Everlyn had never stood a chance, no matter how hard he might have tried or how wonderful his plans might have been. And there were still many useful things yet to be learned.