“Allen,” I whispered.
One of my old companions.
All the tension I had been holding in unraveled as I slumped into the throne. Allen still stood there in awe until one of the other knights in the room nudged him. He shook from his revery and approached closer to the throne. Brutus moved to intercept him, but Allen stopped short and spoke only my name in a voice of disbelief.
“Lady Gwenyth,” corrected Eileen.
“My Lady,” Allen corrected himself, as he took a knee and bowed his head solemnly. The rest of the knights in the room followed his example. Though I could almost feel the surprise and apprehension that filled the room. The silence that followed seemed to echo hauntingly as my mind felt muddled in the thought of how I was to handle this turn of events. Eileen nudged my arm and I sat up straighter.
“Rise, Sir Allen, and approach.”
I stood at the same time as he did and Brutus nervously let him pass. As Allen drew close I embraced him and whispered, “I missed you.”
As we drew back from our embrace, Allen placed his hands on my shoulders to make sure I was real.
“It really is you,” he muttered, “how..?”
I shook my head not trusting myself to speak. I couldn’t lie to Allen, but neither could I tell him the truth.
“...And now you have become the Lady of the Valley...” he said aloud and his brow furled as the rest of his face darkened. I knew that look. It was one I was intimately familiar with since our earliest days of adventuring together. It was the look he had when we discussed our dealings with the Dark Lord. A look that did not bode well. Not for me or my court.
“Perhaps we should meet later to discuss things privately,” I offered.
He nodded and took a few steps back from the throne, “Forgive my rudeness, my Lady.”
Allen’s voice changed from familiar to a courtly formality, “I, Sir Allen, a Holy Knight for the Goddess of Light, come before you to request your leave for the men of our Order of Knighthood to fight the evil that arises in your land.”
“I acknowledge your request Sir Allen,” I sat down upon the throne, “and will grant you leave so long as no harm comes to me and the innocent lives of my people.”
“You have my word and oath my Lady,” replied Allen, “on the condition that the vile demoness who attacked my Holy Brethren on your public roads is put to death by holy blade.”
A feeling of unease returned to tie my stomach in knots.
“Come forward Brother Dunelm,” ordered Allen.
One of the knights stepped forward. I couldn’t recognize but I could easily guess who he was and what he was going to say. Silently I sent a summons.
“Brother Dunelm plead your case.”
“Brother Allen as you know I have borne witness that men of our Holy Order were killed on the road as we traveled ahead to the valley village by an undead demon that drank from the blood of mortals. Solemnly I must testify that killer sits before us on her throne.”
The sound of swords being drawn rang throughout the room even as I sat. Righteous anger began to swell among the rank of the holy knights within the throne room. Brutus had his sword drawn at the ready as he shifted to stand in front of me.
I met Allen’s eyes as uncertainty flickered behind them even as his hand went to the hilt of his greatsword.
“And how does my Lady respond to these accusations,” he asked in a level voice surprisingly deprived of emotion.
The words I had rehearsed previously suddenly seemed hollow, “I was in the midst of dealing justice to murderers and thieves when men of the holy order sought to kill me. For the crime of regicide, their lives were forfeit.”
Dunelm bristled in anger as he made a motion to draw his weapon, but was stopped as Allen placed a hand on his shoulder. With narrow eyes Allen looked up at me, his expression unreadable.
“My Lady, Brother Dunelm assures me that he and his fellow knight had acted to kill an undead creature akin to that of the Dark Lord. I must ask, are you a servant of the Dark Gods?”
“I serve no such Gods.”
“Will you so swear by the Goddess.”
I could not. I hadn’t been able to endure the sound of someone calling upon the Goddess without suffering. I could only imagine the pain I would endure if I were to personally call upon the Goddess myself. Allen was trying to give me an out, hoping no doubt that I would take it so that he could buy time to quell the anger of his men. Unfortunately, he was backing me into a corner. Perhaps if I could utter a partial promise, or maybe allude to it.
A burning sensation seared my throat and it felt like my body was robbed of strength like I had crossed over the threshold of a holy site. It lasted only for a brief moment, like a warning or a promised threat.
No! I screamed mentally. I needed this to prove my innocence. Allen seemed to stand over me like an executioner even from across the room, with his hand on the hilt of his blade at the ready. His expression becoming stony cold and indifferent.
“I see,” muttered Allen as he drew his greatsword, “It pains me to do this Gwenyth, but I serve the will of the Goddess.”
Radiant light emanated from his sword as I stood and pulled out my blade.
“We still have a chance to discuss things peacefully,” offered Eileen as she retreated a few steps back.
“We will settle this in personal combat,” Allen declared, a few of the other knights of his order stirred at his request.
“Brother Allen, if she is a demon than she is not to be trusted to honor the terms of combat.”
“I accept,” I announced. Brutus turned to me, “Is this wise?”
“No,” I replied quietly as I descended from the throne. I had always considered Allen my equal in combat. The numerous times we have sparred against each other flashed through my mind as I considered how to best move forward with this.
“I accept your duel,” I said again as Allen considered me.
He grimly nodded, “I would offer you the chance to select the time and place, but I fear that you have fallen too far. We will fight here and now.”
His feet moved into position as he raised his sword to the ready. A part of me was still in disbelief that all this happening. I opened my stance, grateful that Eileen had come to a compromise when I insisted on wearing something with the utility that could I easily maneuver in.
We both stood across from each other for the breath of several long moments. Uncomfortable stillness lapsed before Allen dashed forward swinging his greatsword.
I raised my sword, blocking the attack. Allen immediately shifted to his next strike that I managed to parry. Our swords clashed a third time and I pushed into the block hoping to knock him off his feet. No such luck as Allen merely slid a handful of inches across the stone floor.
His eyes widened in surprise briefly then hardened again in resolve. He twisted slightly to the side trying to get an opening, and I didn’t let him as I swung my sword low for a counter strike. He danced out of the way, giving me the chance to push forward with another attack.
Unexpectedly Allen shifted again and I found myself overextended. His sword flicked through the opening. It was only my quick reaction that left me with only a glancing blow to the face. Blood dripped into my eyes briefly before my healing quickly sealed the wound.
Anger seared behind Allen’s eyes as he retreated a few steps.
“Your not mortal,” he declared.
“I’m undead,” I replied, admitting the truth to the court and my guests, “but I am no demon!”
I leaped high into the air to close the distance between us with my blade swinging down. Allen accepted the attack with a block from his greatsword and spun around my next attack with an aimed strike for my head again. With a quick shift of movement, I blocked the attack.
“You drink the blood of living men and women,” he accused with anger in his voice, “How many have died by your hands!”
“You have no right to judge me!”
We exchanged another set of blows. My blood was starting to boil with the heat of combat. My blade flicked forward past his and scored a hit, leaving a small cut in its wake. Allen only grunted and ignored the wound as he pushed harder into his counter attack with a wide sweep of his sword.
I ducked low and rolled to the side. As I came to my feet I took another leap into the air. Allen barely managed to brace for the heavy strike as my sword came down hard, one knee dropping under him. Taking advantage of the opening as I landed I thrust my blade forward into his leg and backed away.
The cut must have been shallow or Allen was too emboldened by the heat of battle to care. He sprinted forward to meet me as he hefted a powerful swing. His sword suddenly flared with light that blinded me. Reflexively, I pulled on the summons for my bats.
They swarmed through the broken stained glass window and flooded the room.
Chaos erupted from both sides. Some of my guardsmen emerged from the halls and two of the holy knight moved to intersect themselves between me and Allen. A think clout of the swarm had focused themselves to attack Allen, stalling his charge as he stumbled into one of his men. Brutus grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the way of conflict.
“Coward!” screamed Allen as he cut down the bats that surrounded him. A few of my men dashed forward to engage him, trying to hold him down in conflict. I shook free of Brutus and raised my sword to fight. One of the holy knights came at us.
The temperature in the room dropped, followed by a flash of ice that formed a barrier that split the room. I looked over to see Timothy emerging from a hidden opening in the wall, in his hands he held a scroll that began crumbling to dust.
Only a few of the holy knights were trapped on our side. I joined Brutus and our men in surrounding them.
“Surrender and you will go free,” I commanded. The ice wall shuddered and with a glance through the ice, I could faintly see figures raising weapons and trying to hack it down.
“We refuse to surrender to darkness,” responded one of the knights.
“I have no interest in fighting you. I only seek to ensure the Dark Lord never returns,” I replied lowering my weapon, “tell Allen I’m sorry it has to be this way.”
I bade the guardsmen come and leave the knights behind as we retreated into Timothy’s secret passage. Once clear on the other side Brutus and Timothy shut the hidden door behind us.
“That went as well as could be expected,” commented Timothy.
“Shut it,” I commanded.
“You should’ve forbidden them entrance, to begin with,” Timothy remark, “Do you plan to treat all our enemies like lost friends.”
I grabbed Timothy by the front of his cloak and shoved him against the wall.
“Watch your tongue, or I will remove it for you.”
Wisely for once, Timothy kept his mouth quiet.
“My Lady, what is your command?”
Turning to Brutus, I considered my next move, “Try to ensure the security of the castle and repel the Order. Give them every chance to retreat unharmed, but I want them gone.”
“As you wish my Lady,” he turned to look at the passageway then back at Timothy, “Where in the nine hells are we?”
“Next to the throne room obviously,” voice Timothy. I gave him a cold glare.
“I didn’t ask for the obvious,” stated Brutus.
Timothy cleared his throat, “the stairway at the end of the passage leads up to the castle walls and down to the main floor. Allow me to show you.”
Near everyone disappeared down the dark hidden corridor.
“Leave me,” I ordered the last of the guards.
Once the last of them were out of sight I collapsed to the floor cradling my head in my hands and wept bloody tears of frustration.