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"Gwendoline, it's going to be fine; it's all going to be okay. Father's out there, okay, so nothing's going to happen." My attempts at comforting my sister were pathetic but I was never good with this sort of stuff.

To begin with, I've hardly talked with my little sister--being barely even a decade old herself--and her life is only going to get more complicated and involved with her court training. I don't even know if she's seen Father within the past month.

But, at the very least, she's not sobbing incessantly right now so at least that's something. Currently, we're huddled behind her magnificent bed in her chambers and the din and muffled shouts resounding through the door are unnerving, to say the least. I've got one arm hooked around her shoulders, drawing her close, trying to maintain my brotherly confidence.

It's not that convincing.

I don't know how much she knows but the sword--the short, barely sharpened sword--is practically useless in my hands. For all the training forced upon me, I knew the techniques and my body was athletic enough to fend off a commoner but against the knights attacking the palace? I might as well throw sticks at them. That way I could at least keep my distance.

If it was a bow strung around my torso maybe I wouldn't be trembling as much as I am.

I don't know for how long we've been hiding in this room but now, all you can hear is the gentle breathing of Gwendoline and me, her tears gradually drying out.

But there's always a calm before the storm.

Rushing up the stairs, the clanking metal of sabatons can clearly be heard through the door; they're not far away by now. The floor is stone and polished. The window is closed and the air, stagnant. Within these echoing halls, the sound is only amplified. The heavy footfalls of what could be the end are louder than anything I've ever heard before.

With a large crash, the wooden door smashed and flung open, a verticle hole made where an axe struck with unparalleled strength. There are only two men--both clad in full plate harness--but one holds a large, single-bitted axe while the other a longsword. It's a gorgeous blade of enviable craftsmanship if you ignore the blood.

It took only a couple of seconds for them to see our bodies, huddled and crouched behind the bed and partially hidden by the dangling, lacy curtains. It was useless trying to hide, anyway.

I kiss Gwendoline on her head, feeling her whole body shaking within my grasp, and let go. With both hands, I grip my own blade, too short to be called a longsword.

I know what I must do.

Standing forwards, I attempt to show off a confident posture, my back straight and my stance resolute. I raised my sword in front of me, arms outstretched, just like I've been trained.

This will be my first real combat against another person. No more spars, no more training, this was it.

And it's going to go horribly.

With barely enough time for me to react, the sword-wielding man has lunged forwards, his sword aimed below mine. It's all I could to lower my own sword and that's barely enough; his sword clanged straight against the crossguard. I don't even manage to control his weapon with my own blade.

But that's not enough. He's already withdrawn his sword and aimed high--for my head. I step back, bringing my sword up as well, but a sharp stinging pain strikes my templed as I feel warm blood flowing down the side of my head.

He's too fast and even if I manage to defend, he's not alone. There's no other possibility.

Knowing what to do, I strike out myself. My footwork is bad and messy and my stance isn't much better either. However, my attack was clearly unexpected and he's taken a step back himself. Finally!

My attack is easily blocked from the side but without missing a beat, I throw myself at him shoulder first. A loud thud can be heard and my shoulder screams in pain but the energy coursing through me allows me to ignore it. As fast as I can, I withdraw my own sword and flip it around, gripping it by the blade. My hands are bare and ungloved but even so, it does not hurt.

The way you defeat an armoured opponent is not through precise strikes and stabs but through blunt trauma. Wielding my sword like a pickaxe, crossing facing towards my opponent, I strike down with full force onto his chest, the angled armour barely deflecting the blow. It's exhausting work but I can manage to take him down with only a few more strikes.

Sweat glistening off my skin, the wound on my head begins to pound more and more, my focus gradually being drawn to it. Dammit! Shut up; I need to do this.

Bang! There's finally a dent but he's still not down for good. I reckon I can strike one more time before he's back on his feet.

But that time never comes. No; instead, a gauntleted fist slams against my cheek and--my focus already loose--I topple over.

Pain screeches through my body as my eyes begin to blur. The floor is covered in blood but it's not mine. In front of me, where my gaze has landed, is Gwendoline, my sister. She's staring at me, eyes wide in terror but I can tell, she's unfocused. Why?

My gaze travels down her body as my eyes feel heavy. Her previously purple clothes are stained wine red and her shoulder...her shoulder shouldn't look like that. A shoulder shouldn't have the gaping, dripping, bleeding wound her shoulder has.

I need to get to her, I need to help her. We're taught wound management--cleaning and bandaging. All I have to do is get over to her and I get help her. All I need to do is cover her shoulder and take her to the court physician and then he can help her, just how he helped Father with his leg.

I-I need to get to her, somehow. With all the strength remaining in my arms, I pull myself forwards, gripping the soaked and stained rug to make my way towards her. Just a little more and I can save you, Gwendoline. Hang on in there. I'll save you.

...

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Anno

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