Elora was standing inside a large tent that had been erected just to the left side of the stage where she would marry Cellus, pacing backwards and forwards in a combination of panic and excitement. She could hear the royal choir singing outside, though louder than even that were the common people, who had arrived in droves to celebrate this day alongside her.
Upon the stage were some thirty seats. They would be used by the most powerful Nobles of the realm. Those that hadn't followed her parents on campaign at least. The Knights and Smiths would be here as well, including such vaunted figures as the Duke Elgard and his Smith, Lord Asterd, along with their wives. They were heroes in the past, but too old now for war, so they stayed behind when her parents had left for the border skirmishes. In fact, now that she thought about it, all the Knights and Smiths in attendance would be the old or the very young. With the exception of the Lady Vera and Lady Annabelle, of course.
The stage itself had been a sight to see in the light of day. Held up on carved posts that were Inscribed to protect from the weather, it was constructed from the black tree's of Lostwood, a great forest that lay to the west of the city, on the border with the Kingdom of Fero. They say the forest itself is cursed and within it's depths are creatures who thrive on a diet of darkness and pain. To have built the stage out of it's wood is telling of how important the day is. No one wished to awaken the evil within it's borders. In attendance were also foreign Nobles who either travelled specifically for the occasion, or were posted in the Venosian Capital as ambassadors of their countries. These men and women didn't really care for the event itself, more for the company that would be surrounding them at the later feast. Including the Lord High Chamberlain of Venos, Duke Brynyar of Myrin. That rank is the highest position of authority a Noble of the realm can hold without being a member of the royal family.
She was moments away from walking out and onto the stage, her hands clasped to stop herself from fidgeting. She had already been informed that Cellus was here, his arrival confirmed with a roar from the crowd. She could almost imagine his sheepish grin at the sight and it caused her to smile in turn. Soon he would be her husband and her Knight. She just needed to get past this one hurdle and they would spend the rest of their lives together.
“Nervous, your Royal Highness?” asked the lilting voice of Vera. She sat on a fur covered divan near the door to keep any wandering eyes from seeing her before the right moment. She looked resplendent in her silvery dress, which showed her mature beauty. In a brief moment of worry, Elora worried that Cellus' eyes would be on the First Knight instead of her.
“Of course, I'm bloody nervous!” Elora replied while trying to fix her dress. She knew everything was in the right place and so did everyone else. Elora's constant need to fix a problem with her dress that didn't exist had caused the First Knight to send all of her maids away. Only Vera and Delithia sat with her now. Vera to escort her in place of her parents and Delithia to lead them out, throwing pretty petals as she went.
“You look beautiful, Princess.” Delithia said with awe, her eyes wide as she took in the Princess' nearly blinding form.
Indeed, she did look beautiful. Holonzo had outdone himself with this dress and Elora was swathed in fabrics of soft orange that became lighter as they descended her body. Her light blonde hair had been tied into an elaborate bun made of braids that had taken her maids hours to get right. She wore a necklace of amber that caught the light and seemed to glow with some spectral power and set off the soft glow of her honey coloured eyes. She was a walking sunset.
Yet Elora was not happy. Was it the shade she asked for? Was it revealing enough for her husband or would he think her prudish? Was she ready to become a wife?
The answer to the last question was yes, but the others and more besides still plagued her thoughts. She smoothed down her dress once more and made for flaps of the tent, only to be blocked by the First Knight.
“We wait for the right notes, Princess. Have no fear, I'll be listening. Delithia, would you hold the Princess' hand for me, just to calm her down.”
“Of course, Lady Vera!” Delithia hopped to her feet and crossed the distance to grab Elora's hand which, despite herself, caused Elora to smile.
Delithia was a balm for the soul, especially now, and Vera knew that. The young girl was garbed in the same palette as the Princess, but with a slightly darker hue to ensure that no eyes were torn from Elora herself.
If anyone could do it though, it was Delithia. With her blonde curls and bright eyes she was like an Avatar of the Spirit in her innocent beauty. She smiled up at the Princess and Elora felt her heart melt, pulling Delithia into a hug that caused the girl to giggle childishly.
“Delithia, my dear, I wish you could stay in the palace with me. You do wonders for my soul” Elora stated, pulling back to hold the girl's cheeks with her hands.
“Thank you, Princess.” Delithia said with a flushing face and a happy smile.
“There is something magical about that girl. I have no other way to describe it.” Vera said absently, even as she smiled fondly at Elora's flower girl.
Then the three of them heard it. The change of notes that signalled the entrance of the Princess. Under any other circumstances, Elora would be rather put out by the fact that she was to be summoned when she herself had not decided, but that thought didn't even cross her mind. Today was her day. Organised by others maybe, but it was her moment of triumph. When she would tell the world and the other women of Venos and beyond that Cellus of Sind was hers and hers alone.
Vera came up beside her and took her arm. “Don't forget your flowers, Delithia.”
“Right!” The girl replied, running over to the divan and picking up a hand woven basket that had been filled with petals pulled from the most beautiful of flowers in the royal gardens. They were ready.
She walked forwards, taking her cues from Delithia who had already walked through the now open flaps of the tent. Elora pulled the veil down and over her face, following the young girl out and towards her future.
Everyone was silent as she made her way out onto the stage. The veil she wore was a little stifling, but it did nothing to impair her vision. The first thing she saw was the crowd. There must have been a thousand people or more hoping to gain entry to the inner city square and the fact that for today it was free would have no doubt helped to boost the numbers. She saw hundreds of faces looking up at her, all of them them washed and cleaned, no doubt dressed in the best they could afford. It boosted her courage to see so many people behind her. It shocked her more when, as she passed, every single one of them took the knee. Falling to the ground in great droves, each with head bowed and hats off. She couldn't help herself, a large smile crossed her face and she nodded her head to the crowd as she walked along the edge of the stage, noticing the large amount of guards that separated the common folk from the stage.
Then she turned to see the guests of her wedding celebration. They all stood by their chairs and bowed their heads as she walked up the white carpet that had been laid down the aisle, now lightly garbed in orange and red petals that Delithia was liberally distributing. All of them smiled at her, but even from behind the veil she could see which smiles were real and which ones hid a motive beyond mere happiness. It looked like her training in politics hadn't been for nothing after all.
But she didn't care. Which was surprising. Usually she would be if she felt that one of these Nobles was trying to use her for their own ends, but she found that she had no room in her heart for anything else. She cared not for these men and women who would happily lick her boots if it meant getting slightly ahead of their rivals. She took note of the Sister Erin and the children of the orphanage, dressed in their best and smiling and waving at her from their place at the back of the ceremony. No doubt placed there by some self-important fool who believed that commoners should not be in attendance at this event. She was hoping they would be closer. They were the only truly friendly faces amongst those gathered. The only ones without an agenda. It made her feel all the better that they were there and in such good spirits. She was glad to give them this and more than happy at the support, the strength, that their presence instilled in her. She almost burst out laughing when little Sasta opened her mouth to speak before having her mouth clamped shut by the Sister, who too was smiling, as she chided the girl softly. The sight sent tears to Elora's eyes but she quickly brought them under control. She had never had an affectionate mother, and after seeing how the Sister treated her wards at the orphanage, she found that she wished to have had something similar.
But she didn't have time to think of that now, not today of all days. No, her eyes were focused on one man and one man alone.
He stood beneath an arch that was constructed from one of the Spirit Tree's taken from the royal gardens and, as a result, it seemed to glow with an otherworldly power that painted the side of her future Knight's face in a shade of sharp silver.
He was wearing a fine tunic of the lightest sky blue, with silver toggles and a single band of the same orange that made her dress bound around his arm. Tradition said that it should be so. He carried a piece of her and she carried a piece of him in the form of a strip of sky blue fabric, tied to the inside of her thigh. To be removed on their first night together and to state that no other man had touched her.
The thought of that sent a blush to her cheeks, but she grinned in spite of herself. She was a Princess of Venos, the future Queen of Venos, yet she couldn't stop herself from smiling like a common fish wife at the idea of being touched by her husband.
Elora had questioned why he would want to wear blue to the wedding, as it was his choice what he wore. He had shrugged and said that she was the sun itself, and he would be the sky that held her aloft. Such words would make any maiden weak at the knee's and it was all Elora could do not to jump him in full view of her guards and maids, damn the consequences.
He was smiling brightly, his black hair falling around his shoulders and his blue eyes seeming to see into her very soul. Which would be the case when they bonded, she was sure.
But it was as she reached out towards him, towards that outstretched hand that she had wanted to hold for the longest time, that everything changed for Elora, the Kingdom, and the continent of Ouros, forever more. It did not even begin with a bang, but with a whisper.
Guards swarmed the stage and alarm arose on the faces of everyone present. The shouting began soon after and all Elora could feel was the iron grip of Vera on her arm and the smell of blood in the air.
“Grab the Princess!” A voice from the crowd sounded out and the guards, men dressed as the royal guard of the Venosian royal household, made towards her, slamming other guests to the ground with great fervour.
Thank the Spirit! She was saved. Elora didn't know what was wrong but the fact that her guard were trying to get to her could only mean that they meant to keep her safe. She turned from the men, trusting them with her life and searched for Cellus. She saw him behind a wall of bodies, both guards and Nobles and they were... fighting. Cellus was fighting, his sword out of the sheath at his belt as he desperately fought against the guard in front of him. His man and loyal retainer, Sir Folke, at his side.
“Elora! Run!” came the haunted cry of her betrothed as he sought with all he had to break through the crowd and reach her.
The words reached her, but the meaning did not. How was this happening? Why would royal guards attack the Royal Protector? It made no sense. Shock ran through her body and locked her in place as she turned and watched the approaching guard, her eyes wide and fearful as she saw underneath the open helmet this one wore. He was a a dark skinned Andapan, not a Venosian, and his eyes were alight with cruel intent as he knocked Nobles, men and women alike, to the ground around him, stabbing at them with his blade even as they fell.
Then Vera was there. Even without a Smith she was a formidable warrior and Elora watched as she struck out with her fist and it collided with the false guard's throat. She pulled a dagger seemingly from nowhere and plunged it into the man's eye with a cry of rage, ripping it up and out the top of his head, taking his helmet with it.
It was the first time that she had ever seen a man die. The sight of the blood and the twitching corpse caused bile to rise in her throat but she somehow managed to keep it down. She stared dumbly at the dead man before Vera grabbed her arm once again and pulled her back down the aisle, knocking aside Nobles and enemies as she went. Killing more than one, enough that it drenched her silvery dress in crimson liquid. So much of it that it was too much for the young Elora that she lost her previously strong self-control and she vomited her breakfast onto the white carpet strewn with flowers.
“Elora! Elora,” snapped Vera as she yanked the Princess back upright. “go to the back of the stage and hide with the Sister and the children, I'll deal with these fools.”
“No!” shouted Vera, “He is a warrior and good one, he will not fail you. Go to the Sister and the children, they need your help. Just stay on this side of the stage.”
“But, Vera, I can't... I can't-”
The First Knight of the realm of Venos slapped the Princess of said realm on her cheek with such force that her head whipped to the side and she cried out in pain.
“You can and you will. I am sorry this is happening, child, I know it is hard, but you cannot fight and would only cause us a hindrance. We will deal with these ones, but the children and the Sister need you. You invited them, they are your responsibility. Now go!”
Elora knew on some level that Vera was merely trying to keep her out of the way, giving her a job to make sure she did just that. But that didn't mean she was wrong. The Sister and the children were her responsibility. She didn't know what was happening, what the plan of these false guards was, but it would no doubt involve her. She needed to get out of their way and let them do the job they had been doing for her since she was child.
She sprinted away from Vera, hearing the battle cry of the First Knight behind her as she rushed back into the fray, no doubt hoping to reach the Lady Annabelle and Bond. At that point, the fight would be over, Elora had seen the Knight fight while Bonded and she was all but invincible.
Finding the Sister and the children proved to be easier than expected. They were surrounded by the bodies of both enemies and Nobles, cowering behind the chairs at the back of the stage. Looking from the stage into the crowd she saw only madness. The people were running around with no idea what was happening, those that got close to the stage were cut down by the guards that stood in their way. It seemed that they were under the employ of whoever had orchestrated this attack. The peasantry were unable to help though they looked angry and afraid. Perhaps they could have got onto the stage if they pressed their numbers but no one wanted to die for the stranger standing behind them and they were hardly trained warriors. They were alone in this fight.
“Princess!” shouted the Sister as she rose from the ground and pulled Elora over to where she and the other kids stood. She noticed two of the boys holding weapons. One of them was large for his age and she knew his name was Albert, his frame more suited to a field worker than a warrior. The other was the boy she barely knew. He had been at the orphanage when Elora had gone to fix it, but he had done nothing but glare with hostility at herself and Cellus. His name was Gertrand, she remembered. He carried a dagger in his hand,yet to be stained by blood, while Albert carried the same.
“Sister, everyone, I'm so sorry, I don't know what's happening.” Elora managed to choke her words out between her sobs and tears, causing the Sister to pull her into a hug.
“Hush now, child. None of this is your doing. We are safe here for a time, your friends and betrothed have held them back thus far. But we must be ready to run.” The Sister spoke with a calm and measured tone but Elora could see the panic in her eyes, she was holding it together for the children which just made Elora cry more.
“Orin will save us,” stated little Sasta with a tight expression. “He'll make the bad men go away.”
The Sister just pulled in Sasta to the hug as well and held both her and Elora tighter. It might have been her imagination when she felt the tremble run through the Sister's body, but what wasn't was the words that followed after.
“Please, Spirit, make the boy see sense and keep him away. Please.”
“Sister,” one of the boys with weapons, Gertrand, shouted urgently. “The fighting has-”
“Princess Elora!” The shout echoed around the square and with it's coming every single person fell silent. The voice had the hint of an accent that Elora could not discern. From the Empire perhaps? Though it sounded Ferosian and Yelesi as well.
Elora turned slowly, pulling away from her hiding place in the Sister's arms and looked out at the stage once again.
What she saw was a battleground.
The stage which she had overseen the construction of. The place where she was supposed to bind her life forever to the man that she loved above all others, was a place of death and blood. Bodies lay haphazardly around the turned and thrown chairs. Many of them were Noble, though a few were wearing the armour of the guard. The red had turned the white of the carpet to it's colouring, and the arch in which she was to pledge her love, was torn asunder.
Then she saw her betrothed. He was on his knees beside the First Knight Vera, who was holding her side and wincing with pain. Both of them had guards standing over them, with swords at their throats. All the other Knights stood with them. The Smiths had been kept as far away as possible from their Knights, denying them the opportunity to Bond, but they were no better off. Many of them lay prone on the ground. Lady Annabelle was still alive, but a cut had been opened above her eye and on her arm. She glared at the man who had spoken, promising an icy wrath as soon as she was set free.
The man who had spoken stood just across from her on the aisle. He looked sickly, his skin pale and sweating. His hair was swept back away from his face and a patchy beard was growing from his cheeks. His armour was the same as the other members of the guard though he had removed his helmet.
His eyes were glowing. A disgusting yellow light that shone brightly over all they surveyed. It made her feel ill just looking at it. Something was wrong with him. She could sense his soul even from here and it held all the signatures of him being a Knight, but even that looked diseased.
On his right hand was a glowing gauntlet of yellow crystal. It's fingers ending in sharp points and black veins pumping some kind of foul liquid lanced up and down them. His Weapon. In his other hand, he held Delithia.
“Princess Elora! I beg that you come to me now. Your Knights will not save you. You will be escorting me from this city.”
Elora stumbled to her feet. The Sister and the children followed. Gertrand and Albert took a couple of steps forward to stand in front of her, holding their daggers out before them, despite the fear that most definitely gripped them at that very moment. Seeing that almost sent her to tears once more. But she could not cry, not now. She needed to buy time. The city guard were not present, so she merely had to keep this corrupted filth talking long enough for them to arrive. There were no Knights among the city guard but even a Knight would be wary of attacking so many men.
“Who are you, sir,” Elora said with as much authority as she could muster. “I demand your name!”
“Demand, your Royal Highness?” The man's eyes narrowed, the glow growing brighter. “You make no demands of me, girl. I will release everyone here if you come with me of your own free will. How is that for a demand?”
Elora gritted her teeth, her eyes darting furtively over the crowd to the gates to the Inner City.
“I will not!”
One of the fake guards threw his hands up into the air in frustration. “Spirit be damned. Boss, just grab her and we can get the fuck out of here!”
“Shut your mouth, peasant!” The man snarled, turning his glowing eyes on the man who had spoken. “If the girl is to come, it must be willingly.”
That was interesting, Why would they need her to come willingly? She had no way to defend herself, she was a Smith without a Knight and only had two orphan boys to protect her, she was no threat. Why would she need to go with them of her free will?
“You will come, Princess. You will come with us or I will kill everyone here, starting with this little one.” He moved his gauntlet closer to Delithia's face. The girl was crying and trying to pull away but her captor was a Knight and his strength would be beyond a mortal man, never mind a small girl. The sight of Delithia, clearly in pain, broke Elora's heart.
“I... I need assurances. Assurances that they will all be unharmed.” Elora said hesitantly, still glancing towards the doors to the Inner City, realising just how many of the audience were watching her, their eyes clouded with despair and hands clenched, unable to do anything but watch, especially now with a Knight before them.
“Assurances?” The man laughed throwing back his head as he did so and causing his men to follow suit nervously. They were afraid of him, that much was clear. Even the untrained eye could see as much. These men were not loyal, but full of fear.
“Don't do it, Elora!” cried Cellus from his place on the ground, but the man with the sword behind him pressed his blade closer and his mouth closed, grimacing in pain.
Elora could see the blood spilling from the cut the sword was making on her love's neck and that too almost broke her. She clenched her small hands into fists and stared hatefully at the man standing before her, so proud of his victory. So proud that he had to threaten children to get his way.
“The Princess will not be going anywhere,” The Sister said calmly, walking forwards and pushing Elora forcefully behind her and the children. Elora was surprised at the strength of the woman, seemingly well into her fortieth year, if not older but she had a grip like that of steel. “She is beyond men such as you. A creature that skulks in the dark, one who attacks innocents and would even disrupt the sanctity of a wedding.” The Sister spoke with clear venom in her voice.
The woman who had once stood at the side of the road begging for scraps from passing Nobles now stood before a Knight, one who was radiated power, vile though it may be. She spread her arms wide and covered the children and the Princess with her body.
“You would protect her, old hag? Do you believe the Great Spirit would save you?” The man raised his gauntleted fist and yellow flames ignited in his palm and along his fingers. “I wonder. How well will you burn? Perhaps the Princess needs a demonstration of what I am willing to do.”
Elora could see that the Sister was afraid, and yet she couldn't move, the children were hemmed in beside her, trying to push her further behind them as though to shield them with their own bodies.
Why? Why would they do this for her? She should never have allowed them to be brought here. It broke her heart but she should have just left Delithia crying in the street that day. She would be hated, but at least the Sister and the children of the orphanage would still be alive. Now they would die, for her sake.
She opened her mouth and began to shout, to beg that they should be left unharmed. The children were crying, the Sister was crying. The First Knight raged against the hands that held her, neck straining and face red as she tried to pull herself free. Her love was the same, pressing as hard as he could against the sword at his throat, his eyes filled with tears and face covered with blood.
“Nothing can be done now, Princess,” The yellow-eyed Knight goaded. “I must show you that it is hopeless. The guard is not coming, your mother and father are not coming. No help is coming. You are going to come with me. Just as soon as I burn this bitch of a peasant.”
“Great Spirit, I ask for your protection. Not for myself, but for the children behind me. They are innocent, Lord, save them.” The Sister muttered the prayer through her tear streaked cheeks and yet she did not falter, nor did she move from where she stood, shielding her sons and daughters from the terrible creature before them.
“Burn!” The man sneered and in response to his word, yellow flame rose like a bonfire from the palm of his hand, twisting and turning upon itself like some great and terrible serpent. Strangely, it was the lack of heat that Elora found most odd. Such flame should have ignited the air, but instead the world only felt colder.
It pushed towards the Sister with a roar that seemed more appropriate to a monster than to fire, but roar it did and the Sister did stand in it's way. Nothing could move her, Elora realised, not when she was protecting those she loved. The Princess closed her eyes and cursed her own weakness. She could not watch as one of the few true friends she had ever made in this world was turned to dust because of her own fear, because she was deemed to be better than them because of the manner of her birth. Yet, they would die for her, all of them would and without a second thought. She didn't deserve their love, she didn't deserve their loyalty. She had failed them.
The fire collided and the air was painted yellow and black. All they could see was the outline of the Sister, still standing tall and arms outstretched to form a barrier. How could she withstand such pain? The Princess and the children screamed though they were lost to the sound of the flame and faded as it faded away to reveal...The Sister.
She stood in the exact same place she had before and looked to be untouched. Elora and the others watched with wide eyes. Had the Spirit stopped the flames? Had it reached down with it's ethereal grace and stopped that foul power from reaching it's goal?
“That hurt, asshole.”
“Orin!” Delithia screamed the name like a battle cry and as the smoke made by that corrupted flame faded, Elora saw just who she was yelling at.
He was a young man, tall and broad of shoulder. He had crouched low behind a shield in front of the Sister and taken the attack in her stead. He was breathing heavily and covered in soot. Small yellow fires sputtered on the wooden stage around and on his shield itself. Now that she looked more closely, she could see that even his tunic, once a vibrant green, also sported small flames.
With a cry the young man threw his shield at the Knight before him, who looked to be shocked that the Sister had survived his attack. The shield was unexpected and hit it's mark, which was the arm that held Delithia in it's steely grasp. Elora doubted that such a blow would hurt a Knight, but it did surprise him and loosened his grasp enough for the young girl to wriggle free of it. Delithia sprinted towards the young man, breathing heavily and crying buckets of tears. But she looked happy, as though everything would be okay now. As though this young man was the answer to all of her hopes and prayers. The Knight didn't try to stop her, merely watched her go, a small smile on his face as he did so. A cruel scar on his face..
“A secret protector in the crowd, Princess? I am surprised, truly. I thought Venosians beyond such tactics,” The Knight said snidely, watching with glowing eyes as Delithia hugged the young man. “So who are you, boy? Some kind of agent of the crown tasked with defending the Princess?”
The young man didn't answer him. Instead he fell to his knee's before Delithia and held her cheeks in both his hands as he checked her injury. His tunic still burned and was no doubt causing him pain, but he smiled for the sake of the girl who smiled back with shining eyes.
“I knew you'd come, Orin, I just knew it!” Delithia crowed happily turning to look at Elora from her place hiding with the children. “Princess! This is Orin. Everything is going to be okay now.”
“Of course I came, did you think I wouldn't? I needed to see you in your new dress,” The man said with an easy and soothing voice as he grinned at the little girl. “Now, go stand next to the Sister and the others while I have a talk with this yellow prick here.”
The yellow prick in question seemed to not enjoy being ignored and his sickly face turned red as he realised that was exactly what Orin was doing. Was the boy insane? Elora had heard the stories told to her by the kids about their big brother Orin, the mercenary who sent them coin. But he was no Knight, and stood little to no chance against a man such as this. Mocking him in the open, in front of his men who held swords at the throats of so many of the people she loved, would do nothing to improve his mood.
“Orin, what are you doing?” The Sister asked in a panic as she took Delithia into her arms. “He is a Knight, son, you cannot fight him.”
“I know, Sister, I know,” The young man turned to face them in full and Elora saw him truly for the first time. She was not very impressed. He was handsome enough, she supposed, but not compared to Cellus, and the straggly whispers he had grown out seemed to have been partially burned, along with his long brown hair. Most likely from the fire he had just caught on his now deformed and half melted shield. Half his face was covered in crusting blood. “I'm just a mercenary.”
When he said that, the Sister flinched and looked away as though to escape his gaze and what a gaze it was. While the rest of him wasn't so impressive his eyes were sharp and clear, bright like emeralds shining under water. There was a hint of quiet danger about this man, as though he had seen battle many times over and craved violence all the more for it. Elora had met many warriors in her time but this one felt almost... unrestrained. As though he didn't know how to act around people yet.
“But a mercenary is all you're going to get. How the fuck did all of the Knights in Myrin get caught by this yellow prick?” the question was directed at the First Knight who stared at the young man incredulously, as though unsure how to respond.
“Who are you, boy!” snarled the yellow-eyed Knight. His rage was great, as evidenced from the blaze that was forming around his gauntlet.
Orin slammed his sword into the hard wood beneath his feet and it stayed there, facing upright with a slight tremble running through it's length Then he removed his sword belt and sheath, slowly but surely pulling them off and tossing them off to the side, hitting the guards that sat just below the stage. The men kept throwing glances at their leader, trying to figure out what they wanted him to do.
“I am no one of note, stranger. Just a man with a sword. Orin is my name.” Orin said as he pulled off his tunic and tossed it to one side, drawing gasps from the crowd, the Nobles and, indeed, Elora herself.
She could only see his back but it was leaden with scars. Scars that she found she recognised. They were long and cruel, going from one shoulder to another and it looked like he must have suffered the same type of wound over a hundred times. She recognised the signs of a whipped man when she saw it. In Venos the crime for stealing was enduring ten lashes from the bull whip. What had he done to earn so many?
“Oh, my son.” The Sister whispered, her hands reaching out as though to put her hands on the scars and take them away. She didn't seem surprised to see them though, instead it seemed to bring up an old memory judging by the haunted look that crossed her face. “You have more than I remember.”
“Just a few, Sister. Most from battle.” Orin said softly as he turned, revealing more scars on his front, with a particularly bad one running from his neck to shoulder that shined white. “I got better.”
“Sir Orin, you are bleeding.” said Elora as she pointed a shaking hand to a fresh cut on his abdomen. It appeared to be long and shallow, but it still wept fresh blood, as though it were newly made. Orin merely smiled at her in response and she felt her eyes widen at his dismissal of such a wound.
“No need to be concerned, Princess. A minor scuffle before I got here, nothing more. I'll get you back into that palace as fast I can, promise. Oh, and I'm no sir, best not to call me that in front of all these Noble folk. They may take offence.” He grinned and turned back to face the yellow-eyed Knight, who stood watching everything with those hungry eyes.
Why on earth did she believe him? He couldn't stand up to the Knight as he was. He was a mortal, a man incapable of utilising the power of his soul. Knights were forces of nature, empowered by Smiths to make them into beings capable of battling at a level beyond the comprehension of normal men. Yet he seemed so sure of himself, so confident in his victory that she felt a small thrill in her heart. Maybe he would win.
“So what's your name, stranger?” Orin said as he turned back to the man and pulled the sword from the wood, holding it in front of him in a practised manner. “I'm assuming you have one. Most likely one with a title if you're here trying to steal a Princess.”
The yellow-eyed Knight tilted his head at the young man before laughing, which again caused his men to follow suit.
“You think too much of yourself, peasant. I have allowed your talk because it amused me, nothing more. Don't believe for one second that you are my equal. You are unworthy of my name.”
Orin shrugged and hefted his blade, pointing it with one hand towards the yellow-eyed Knight who stood mocking him with a lilting smile.
“Then I have a name for you!” roared Orin, all pretence of politeness and kindness lost from his voice as he sneered at the man with his fist wreathed in yellow flame. “I name you Craven, for your eyes have the colouring of a coward!”
The yellow-eyed Knight snarled in bloody fashion and dashed towards Orin, faster than any man could follow, his body becoming a blur of silver steel and yellow fire. Elora knew, in that moment, that the boy had no chance. That for all his words, he was just a man and not capable of dealing with the power that stood before him. Then something happened that she didn't expect.
Orin proved her wrong.
* * *
This was not a good idea.
I had a plan when I had emerged from the bowels of Holonzo's shop and it did not involve standing in front of a pissed off Knight who was throwing yellow fire around the place like it was nothing at all.
But I couldn't help myself. If I had remained hidden in the crowd then the Sister would have been killed, most likely along with the children, to allow this Craven to get to the Princess. That was something I could not allow.
I liked the Princess well enough, but if I thought handing her over would have solved anything I might have done just that. I didn't know her and despite all the good she had done for the children, the Sister and even myself, I wouldn't put her life above theirs.
I had heard him speaking to her from the crowd. He had said that he needed her to come willingly but it could very well be some sort of game. He knew he had the time, the gangs would be keeping the guard occupied for quite some time and even if they did return I doubt they could do more than merely slow the Knight that stood before me.
He was unlike any other I had ever seen. His eyes looked wrong, almost like the burning flames I could see in his irises were causing him pain, as the whites had turned red with irritation. His lips were pulled back to show a feral grin, shining with the promise of a long and torturous death. He would have looked for all the world to be a peasant if it wasn't for his manner of speech and those eyes that shined so bright they seemed to almost blind me.
I had managed to get Delithia away from him easy enough, though I suspected that was more from surprise than any actual pain I had inflicted with that bloody shield. Just thinking about that wave of fire hitting me again filled me with dread. It was cold, ice cold and yet burned my skin regardless. Not only that, but the burns on my body had turned black at the edges, no doubt this fire was the power of a Knight, but their powers were never what they seemed to be. I didn't know how much time I had before I found that out, but I needed to help while I could still stand.
My body ached and shook with the exertion of merely standing. The wounds I had already received on my side and above my eye were taking their toll and already I felt several pints of blood lighter, my vision was swimming and I felt my eyes begging to be closed. I had put up a brave face in front of the Princess and the others to give them some hope. I just hoped it wasn't false hope.
I needed to goad him, to humiliate him in front of his men, to make him seem small and inferior compared to me. Considering that he was running towards me at full bore with a clawed and demonic looking gauntlet I would say that I had succeeded in that regard. But I couldn't fight him. I knew that. The Sister was right, I would stand no chance and no doubt every one of the Nobles and the crowd of common folk watching felt the exact same way. I didn't stand a chance against this Knight.
But I didn't need to. Why would I fight something that is quite plainly beyond me when there is a perfectly good Knight sitting right next to the pretty Duke?
I dropped my sword and my hand fell to my waist. Everything seemed to be moving slower than would usually be allowed. My sword falling to the ground, the people around me screaming out in warning, The Sister's prayers for my safety which, even above the roar of everything else, I could hear clearly. Through it all ran the Knight, faster than a loosed arrow, his body low, his gauntlet curled into a fist.
Shit. I really thought I'd be able to get out of this alive.
I grabbed the dagger that was tucked into my waist and whipped it out and towards the First Knight even as Craven collided with my front, smashing me in the chest with his fist of yellow rock that burned upon contact. I flew backwards like I had been just been struck by a cavalry charge and could only shout a warning to the Sister who stood behind me before I smashed into something. Hard.
Luckily, it was one of the corner pillars of the stage and not a member of my family. Unluckily, I couldn't breathe.
I felt like my chest was at once on fire and bathed in ice. I could see the dent in my chest through my swimming eyes and stared at it, dumbstruck. It was black as the blood beneath my skin had burst. No doubt my ribs were crushed by that blow, one of my lungs was most definitely punctured. I wasn't surprised at the damage, I was surprised that I was still alive. I could hear the children screaming, could hear the Princess as she begged the Knight to stay away, though he strode forwards regardless. He hadn't seen my throw, thank the Spirit, too focused on killing me, which was a part of my rather ill-thought out plan. Still, it could have been worse. I laughed despite the pain and blood exploded from my mouth. That wasn't good.
“You still mock me, little peasant,” stated Craven between gritted teeth. “Despite being so afraid that you dropped your sword, you still have the gall to mock me?”
I felt a hand grasp my throat and tried to scream as I realised it was his gauntlet. I could smell my burning skin, could feel the flesh bubble beneath his grip but I could do nothing, my body just wouldn't respond. It was like I was high above myself, raging against invisible bonds in an attempt to regain control but I could not.
“I'm going to enjoy killing you. Then I'm going to kill those rotten little orphans and that bitch who sought to protect them. Everything you care for will die, boy.” Craven grinned and tightened his grip causing my strangled cries to grow all the louder. I could do little to stop him now, I couldn't fight and it felt like my body was turning to stone. But I could keep him here for a little longer. He hadn't noticed anything in the chaos and was still far too focused on killing me. He would have made a poor mercenary. So I forced myself to laugh through my tears, forced myself to bare my teeth at the man. I needed to keep him here, keep him enraged. It was all I had left.
“Boss!” came the strangled cry of one of the guards from behind him, before it was abruptly cut off.
Craven turned to see what my thrown dagger had done and his rage became all the greater.
I had thrown the knife directly at one of the men holding the First Knight and it had struck true, embedding itself inside the man's throat. Lady Vera's reputation was well-earned because she immediately took advantage, ripping the dagger from the neck of one of her captors and plunging into the other. She was up in an instant, my dagger in one hand and a sword in the other. I thought I was good with a blade but she turned it into art. She painted the already red ground with a fresh coating of blood, freeing the young Duke and a few of the other prisoners who immediately took up arms to help her in her struggle. One of the guards had managed to call out to Craven before being ended by Duke Cellus' blade and the yellow-eyed Knight turned and shouted in surprise.
He dropped me onto the ground and immediately moved to help his comrades and restrain the First Knight. He might well have succeeded if I hadn't grabbed onto his leg before I even hit the ground, wrapping my body around it to give the First Knight and the others some more time to reach their Smiths.
“Release me! Release me!” Craven screamed as he smashed his gauntlet down, again and again, upon my head and shoulders. I felt something crack under that terrific assault but the angle at which I held him didn't allow him to use his full strength. Still, the partial strength of a Knight was still more than a mortal man and I felt my body scream in protest as I gritted my teeth and held on.
But I couldn't maintain it. After a few seconds my grip loosened and with a mighty kick Craven was freed from his bonds and rushed off into battle, aiming for the First Smith, no doubt hoping to kill her before she could be reached.
I watched all this through swollen eyes. I didn't know the extent of my wounds but I knew that I hadn't done enough. The others were too far away and Craven was closing on them, shouting at the men who held Lady Annabelle to slit her throat and be done with it. Thankfully, those guards were too distracted by the angry First Knight that was strutting towards them, bathed in blood and with a gaze that could freeze souls. But it was only a matter of time.
I felt tired. So very tired.
I felt hands wrap around my body and pull me close. My tears had long since dried up and all feeling in my battered body was gone. It was a good end. I had gone out fighting. Boldrin would be proud of me.
I saw faces step into my line of sight. Little Sasta who was crying as she shouted at me to get up. Gertrand, who merely stared at me with a horrified look in his eye. He held my hand and held back tears. Albert was weeping openly, clutching his dagger as though to give him comfort. Then there was Delithia who was smiling through her pain and telling me everything was going to me alright. Fuck, that almost broke me right then and there.
“It's alright, son, we'll get you fixed up. You saved everyone here, you'll probably get a medal, maybe even get turned into a Noble! Wouldn't that be something?” The Sister was lying to comfort me even as she stroked my blood soaked hair and rocked me back and forth. I felt like a child again and I wanted to close my eyes. To enjoy this moment as I drifted away, surrounded by my family. I knew I hadn't done enough. I could hear the despairing cries of the fighters and knew that Craven had reached them. I could do nothing any more. I wished that I was stronger.
“No, it is not enough,” The Princess Elora said as she stepped into view, pushing the other children out of the way and taking a knee in front of me, grabbing my face with both hands. “They need more time.”
I had heard the rumours of the Princess' beauty and I had thought them just that, rumour. After all, wasn't that what was always said? No one wanted to admit that their child was as ugly as sin.
But she was beautiful. Like an Avatar of the Great Spirit. Even though her graceful dress was soaked in blood and her face was tear streaked and eyes puffy from crying she still was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and she was smiling at me. Her blonde hair was askew and her sunset coloured eyes were alight with fear, doubt, and concern. Yet she still smiled. She had a great smile.
“They need more time and we can give it. I'm sorry Orin, but I'm going to need your help for a while longer.”
“Princess, my son can barely stand, he has done enough.” The Sister hissed, pulling me back protectively as though to save me from her.
Elora's eyes went over my head to gaze softly at the Sister. “He will stand and more, Sister. I must do this. I must.” She said the words with conviction but it was like she was trying to convince herself that whatever she was going to do was the right thing.
“Orin of Myrin, I choose you as my champion. You will be bound to me, as my Lord and Protector,”
The Sister gasped as the words were spoken but I could barely understand them, my mind not making the connection between her words and what was happening. I merely stared at the girl blankly as she looked intently into my eyes.
“You will be mine and I will be yours, from this moment until our last. Will you accept?”
“Princess, you cannot do this! The Duke-” The Sister shouted in fear.
“The Duke will die if I do nothing. I need him, Sister, I need your son.” Elora was shouting as well and I could see the pain her eyes as she said the words. She didn't want to do this. Her hands were shaking against my cheeks as she tried to hold back her despairing sobs.
“Accept, Orin. Accept and help me save my family!” Elora shouted, leaning in closer to place her forehead against mine. She smelled nice.
“I... I...” I could barely speak and getting the words out was no option at all. My throat was crushed to the point of no repair and my body blackened and beaten with multiple weeping wounds. But I could nod my head and so I did.
“Then I name you my Knight.” She whispered the last words into my ear and the world turned to white. Or I should say, the Princess turned white. She became light itself and the glow emerging from the centre of her chest caused the Sister and the children to look away. But I did not, I could not, so enraptured I was by the sight. Elora closed her eyes and her body split apart, turning into drifting petals of light that washed over me like a wave, sinking beneath my skin and into my body. The Princess was gone, her physical form turned to the ethereal. But I felt something change inside me.
“No!” screamed Craven from his place in the middle of battle. He had seen the Princess disappear and now hacked and slashed with great fervour through the crowd, using great swathes of his yellow flame to push his foes aside. His yellow eyes were glowing with rage and despair. He only had one thing on his mind at that moment, my destruction, of that I had no doubt.
Then I felt it. Pain lanced through my body and it was all I could do to keep from opening my ruined throat and trying to scream. Something was pressing down inside me, seeking entrance to a place that I didn't know existed before this moment. It was my soul, I knew it to be true even as I thought the words. Something was trying to get inside, pushing against it's walls with such fervour that I thought I would truly die. Whatever it was, it didn't belong there, it shouldn't be there. It needed to be kept out, it needed to be kept away. I didn't notice the steam rising from my quickly reddening flesh.
“Let her in, boy!” The First Knight Vera roared from the other end of the stage, slowly being pushed back by the bodies that surrounded her. The guards that separated the crowd had moved to help their comrades on the stage and they, along with Craven, were succeeding in keeping the mighty warrior at bay. “You must let her in or you will both die!”
I stared wide-eyed at the Knight and caught sight of Craven yet again marching towards me, his lips curled and snarling, looking more like an animal than a man. I needed to let her in? But how? I didn't know how to lower the walls around my soul and even if I did, everything in my body was telling me not to.
I didn't have that option. At least, not any longer. I had given my word to save those here and I would do it. I would disappoint no one else. I needed to save them, to save everyone, and if all it cost was my soul then I would consider the price fair.
I closed my eyes and focused, delving deeply inside my body, now aware of a new sense that I now knew had always been there but had been closed, hidden away since my birth. It would have remained that way if I had not been chosen, that much was certain.
Anyone can be a Knight, but not everyone can be a Smith. I now understand why that was true. The soul. The soul was the key to becoming a Knight and to become one now, here on this battlefield, I would have to wound it, to create an opening that would allow the Princess to come through.
As I fell deeper into my own chest, I felt her. She was a blaze of white light, streaked with golds and reds of every conceivable variation. She sat in the darkness, her soul like water, flowing smoothly and without effort. But she could go no further.
My soul dwarfed her own and it was screaming. It was an inferno of towering black flames with sparks that sputtered silver in the darkness of the empty place where it lay hidden and now discovered. It hated the Princess, it wanted her gone. Strange that it could feel things that I did not, or perhaps I did and didn't even know it. It mattered not. It was my soul and it would bend to my will. I made myself a physical form, for I was master of this place and I could make it so. In my hand appeared my sword and with it I ran into the flames that were myself.
I felt my soul try to attack even me, perceiving me as a threat to my own safety. I was buffeted by memories that were long forgotten but slow to heal. Memories of being beaten and tortured, of being held prisoner, of being whipped near to death and left on the street to die like a dog.
But I knew these memories. They were me. My soul was throwing everything it could think of to stop me from doing what it no doubt knew would happen. But it was trying to use things that I myself had already experienced, already endured, already surpassed.
The sword lets you strive for better.
I roared, both inside myself and in the outside world and thrust my blade towards the small core of black and silver light that sat at my Soul's centre. It struck with a force that I would be hard pressed to replicate and it felt as though my mind was tearing itself apart with it's fury. A crack appeared on the surface of the glowing orb and all at once the black flames vanished as though they had never existed in the first place. Suddenly, the soul of the Princess was there, flowing around me, through me and then finally going into the crack that led into the depths of everything that made me. I felt a hand touch my face and knew it was hers, right before I was thrust back out of the darkness and back into the light.
I opened my eyes just in time to see Craven swiping at me with his gauntleted fist of cowardly flame.
The voice was a battle cry that rung out from inside my soul and I knew it to be Elora's, clear and filled with fear, hate and anger. I felt strength fill me like nothing I have ever felt before, my wounds began to close even as I lifted a hand to catch the gauntlet and my senses sharpened until I could see everything around me as clearly as I ever had.
I caught Craven's fist and squeezed, feeling his gauntlet begin to fragment and break underneath my iron grip. His eyes widened with fear and he swung with his other hand towards my head.
He was still faster than me, and stronger than me, but the difference wasn't so great now. It would come down to a contest of skill and even that I was unsure of winning. He looked to be a warrior, despite his sickly pallor and sweat streaked face. But I had the strength I needed. I could feel Elora concentrating within me, continuing to feed me the strength I knew I would need in what came next.
I ducked beneath his blow, causing him to miss, before checking him with my shoulder, sending him skittering backwards as I immediately moved forwards to press the advantage. I almost fell after I had taken a single step, my new strength and speed unfamiliar to me. But thanks to my enhanced sense of balance I managed to adjust and went after the man, grabbing my sword as I went.
Craven came to a stop in the centre of the stage and waited, his yellow hand blazing with flame that he sent flying towards me in a torrent.
“Duck!” Elora shouted into my mind and I did just that, falling flat to the ground and letting the inferno rage past me before slamming a palm into the stage and pushing myself to my feet, leaving a large crack in the black wood.
Craven snarled when he saw I had survived his flames yet again and dashed forwards, hoping to overcome me with his greater strength. I met him with difficulty. The tip of each finger was bladed and sharper than my sword, as well as a lot more durable. Great chips could soon be seen in the edges of my blade and it would only grow worse, until he rendered my weapon useless. I needed to create an opening but I was finding nothing. He had a lot more of experience than I did, that much was obvious. He was also more skilled with his gauntlet than I was with the sword. He utilized his legs and other arm as well, using a martial style I had never seen. More than once he threatened to put me on my back and I was forced to retreat, unable to push forward unless I wanted my throat slit by his insidiously bladed hand.
“He won't be able to use his flames for a while, so he is limited. You need to beat him before he can summon more fire!” Elora shouted.
How could she possibly know that? Well, she was a Smith so I'm sure she had a much better grasp on Knightly powers than I did. As much as I appreciated knowing he was unable to summon his flames anytime soon, that meant nothing if he could just kill me without using them. The man had me beat in a contest of skill so I needed to fight dirty, go low, for the 'sword'.
I did just that, swinging my blade underhanded and aimed for the tender spot between his legs. He caught the blow easily, catching my weapon with his bladed hand and holding it there.
“Of course a filthy peasant like you would-” Whatever Craven was about to say, he didn't get to finish as I slammed my forehead into his fucking face, drawing blood from him for the first time in this fight. I still bled from a dozen small wounds inflicted by his gauntlet but still, small victories are to be celebrated.
His nose was a ragged mess, crushed flat against his face and no doubt affecting his breathing and his eyesight. Certain reactions from the body could not be simply ignored, and breaking his nose as I had would cause his eyes to swell with tears. Something I aimed to take advantage of.
I grinned and pulled my sword free from his grip, watching him stagger away from me and grip his face. I attacked over head this time, finally having room to work with my blade without him crowding me. I moved through the forms and stabbed at him from a dozen different angles, trying to get past his failing guard.
I have to give it to this asshole, he was definitely skilled. He blocked every single blow despite his injury, but he was flagging. If Elora was right and he could only use a certain amount of flame then he must be draining himself to use it. I needed to press him back and keep him pinned until the First Knight could free herself and Bond with her Smith.
I had seen Knights fight before and while I couldn't be certain I didn't think this man was that strong. I reasoned this was because he, like me, had only just become a Knight and bonded with a Smith, despite looking like he was well past his thirtieth year. If that were the case then the First Knight would turn him into dust within an instant. A fact he was well aware of considering the way he had run back to attack her after she had pulled free. It all came back to delay. Elora and I needed to buy the Nobles that were still fighting some time. From what I could see, the crowd had also become emboldened by my sudden recovery and were pelting the guards who still remained below the stage with rocks. Good people. Not warriors, but they had some in their number who could throw with the best of them.
“Ten years of my fucking life has been about this moment,” hissed Craven as he jumped back to catch his breath, something I was disinclined to give him. “Ten years I have planned and plotted. Now it is to be undone by an ignorant child? No! No! NO!”
Craven's ravings reached a fever pitch and his body ignited with yellow flame. It was an explosion that knocked me backwards, causing me to hit the floor of the stage hard. Thanks to my new strength I was on my feet in no time, but the sight before me made me hesitant to run back into battle.
Craven was alight with his cowardly flame. It crawled up and down his arms and legs, wreathing his body and covering his head with a burning crown. It appeared that his body was not resistant to his own fire and it blackened and dried under it's touch. All the while the man grinned, his eyes now completely mad and his fingers twitching with pain or anticipation. Most likely both.
“I thought you said he couldn't summon more fire?” I shouted to Elora as Craven's presence caused the air to scream in fury.
“This shouldn't be possible. I've never seen anything like this before. He's destroying his own body with his power. His Smith wouldn't allow this!” Elora spoke normally but I could hear her voice as though she was standing right beside me. It was more than a little disconcerting. I wondered how she could see him? Was it through my eyes or some other kind of sense unknown to me?
“What should I do?”
“You need to... you need to.” She sounded weakened somehow, faded, as though her voice was coming from further away.
“Elora? What's going on?”
“I've put it off... I've... We can't keep going. The Bond is new... I can't” Elora sounded like she was in pain now, her words coming through gritted teeth.
“Shit! Okay, Princess, we end this now. Give me all the strength you can, I'll see what I can do.” I focused and dropped my sword to the ground. I needed to take this yellow-eyed fuck out quickly and the sword would only slow me down. Elora said that Craven couldn't handle that much power, that he was destroying his body. Which could only mean something bad if he lost control of it. Perhaps even something that could kill everyone here. It might even be the mad bastard's plan.
Elora didn't answer me but I felt new strength flow through my veins, more than before. It pumped through my body like liquid gold, filling me to the point where I felt like I would break. I felt invincible, like I could crush a mountain with just my bare hands. I ground my teeth against the pain that came with this power, as strong as I felt, the agony of receiving such a boon was almost blinding. I could hear something tear inside me, my ears popped and my eyes zoned in on Craven to the exclusion of all else. I needed to do this now.
I pressed low against the black wood of the stage tensing my legs and preparing for my attack. My limbs trembled and, for a split second, I thought my bones would turn to dust. They did not, but I feared that the consequence of using this much power would be great.
I shot forwards, using my honed battle instincts to guide me. I flew across the stage, about a metre above it's surface. Everything became a blur except the coward known as Craven. I would break him, tear him to pieces and feed him to the dogs. He threatened my family. He needed to die.
He locked onto me as I flew towards him and his grin widened. He raised both hands into the air and began to glow like some kind of foul demon, the flames growing hungrier and hungrier as they grew larger. He was creating a shield of his fire in front of him. It would hurt, I would burn. But I had been burned before.
I shot through his barrier of yellow fire and, for the briefest instant, felt more pain than I had ever experienced in my life. I could see now what the purpose of this fire was. It wasn't to burn the body, but burn the soul and burn it did. The flames of my soul charred around the edges, freezing in place and looking like large barely healed scabs. Elora felt the pain of my soul being destroyed, but hers was safe in the deepest recesses of my own. I needn't worry about her. I just needed to push through, to push through and defeat this fucking monster.
Strive for better!
My fist hit Craven with the force of Spirit only knows what. I just know that I felt his cheek give under my strike, his face caving in on itself as Elora and I put everything we were into that one singular attack. Then, in the next instant, Craven was gone.
I watched as he sailed away through the air, my punch displacing him completely. He flew screaming and raving, even as his fire burned hotter and hotter, before hitting the side of one of the houses that stood at the square's corners. He went straight through the stone and the explosion that followed caused everyone who was present to clutch their bleeding ears. Yellow flame erupted and claimed that house, crawling out like some kind of parasitic serpent. So blinding was it that everyone who was mortal was forced to look away, turning their heads to the side and grasping at their loved ones in fear.
I was hurting all over. That last soul burning attack had done me more damage than anything I had ever felt before. I could hear Elora, still inside me, breathing rapidly as though she was having a panic attack.
Unable to stay standing, I fell to my knee's and stared at the growing flames. My body spent and still partially broken. Elora had healed a lot of the damage I had received earlier today, but just enough to make sure that I survived. I would need to thank her for it and everything else as well. I was a Knight now, after all. Bonded to the Princess of Venos.
… I am so fucked.
It was at that moment that the Princess decided to make an appearance, sparks of light emerged from my arms and chest, forming before me, moving to take shape and come together as one. A mere second later, Elora fell into my arms. Her eyes were closed, her forehead leaden with sweat and a terrific shiver ran through her body as she trembled against my chest. But she was alive and would be sure to recover. At least, I hoped so.
“Release the Princess!” A voice roared from in front of me and it took no small amount of concentration to focus on the speaker.
It was Duke Cellus of Sind. He looked like he had seen better days. His hair was black and matted with dirt, sweat and blood. He had a thin cut on his neck just above the collar and another smaller, yet deeper cut on his shoulder. He was also staring at me with those blue eyes, and I found them to be anything but friendly.
That really pissed me off and I gritted my teeth to avoid speaking. Was he trying to take her away? No. I wouldn't allow it. My grip on the Princess only tightened as I stared at him furiously, ready to cut off his fucking head if he took even a single step towards her.
I frowned, even as I stared, examining my own thoughts. Why was I so angry? I barely knew the Princess, I didn't even know she was getting married until about two days ago. Fuck, I'd hadn't seen her in person for ten years.
“Release her at once, Orin of Myrin, or you will be cut down!” snapped Cellus, his sword was firm in his grasp and I had seen that he knew how to use it.
I knew that he was just afraid. This was supposed to be his wedding day, he was supposed to be a Knight by now. Instead, his wedding had been attacked. Many of the guests, each very prominent members of the Nobility, were now laying dead around his feet. To rub salt on an open wound, he also had to watch the woman he loved Bond with a complete stranger. It had been to save his life, but still, that meant little to the heart of a man as young as he.
Knowing all this did nothing to stop me from suddenly becoming defensive. I became angrier than ever and narrowed my eyes at the young Duke. I couldn't let go of her. It just wasn't physically possible. I wasn't angry at the Duke so much as I was at myself for doing whatever it is I was doing.
“If you refuse to release my betrothed, Orin, I will kill-”
“Enough!” The First Knight Vera shouted at the Duke before turning on Elora and I. She didn't look happy, but nor was she commanding me to let go of the Princess. So, for now, she was welcome.
The Lady Vera had found her Smith to Bond with it seemed and now stood before me a Knight in full. She wore armour made of blue glass that chilled me even from where I now sat. In her hand was a large spear that looked like it had been ripped from a glacier and was covered in a layer of fresh snow. It was a large Weapon and half again as tall as she was. I stared at the spear in awe. That was Illithin, the Weapon of the First Knight.
Lady Vera took a knee in front of me, her armour creaking with the sound of snapping icicles.
“Hello, Orin. Thank you for doing what you've done today. You saved all our lives.” She gifted me with a friendly smile and I saw how beautiful she was. Even at her age, she dwarfed those around her with her sharp presence.
I noticed for the first time that I could see her soul. It was fire, kind of like mine, but seemed different in every other conceivable way. It shone a sapphire blue , with streaks of bright white like ice running over water. Unlike mine, her fire was behind her core, unlike my flames which grew beyond it. I tried to wonder what that meant but honestly could barely understand what I was seeing.
“You can see my soul?” She asked surprised, blinking owlishly at me as though I was puzzle that she needed to solve.
“Yes... how did you...”
“My Smith, Annabelle. She can sense when another looks at my soul. Just so you know, it is rude to do so without asking first.” She replied, her eyes darting down to the Princess in my arms, causing me to pull her even closer and to glare at the First Knight. What the fuck was I doing?!
“Craven...” I muttered, my throat feeling like I'd eaten a handful of nails.
“The yellow-eyed Knight? Dead, we suspect. Though we have sent people to check out that building you punched him into. Great work, by the way.” She reached for the Princess and I pulled back, all but hissing at her, throwing a clumsy punch that she easily avoided as she danced away.
“I see. It is as I suspected,” Vera said softly, looking at me and Elora in detail. “This should not have happened, Orin. You have my apologies.”
“What? What shouldn't have happened?” The Duke asked earnestly, glaring at the back of the First Knight's head, but she ignored him.
“Can you let go of her, Orin? Can you bring yourself to let her go? Know that I will take the best of care with her and you can be with her all the way back to the palace. I give you my word as a Knight that it will be so.”
That seemed to help slightly, but only slightly. Her oath as a Knight meant something to me, or to Elora, or to the Bond or something. Because that's the only thing that could be causing this. I didn't know Elora, I didn't particularly care for Elora, and yet I felt like if they took her away from me I might die.
“I know you are confused, Orin. This should not have happened. You are wondering why you are having these thoughts? Why you can't seem to let her go? I promise all will be explained to you, but you must release her.”
“I... I can't...” I all but screamed, trying with everything in my body to release my grip on Elora, all that caused was my hands to start shaking as I glared at them. “I can't let go of her... It's impossible.”
Vera stared at me as I raised my eyes to meet her own.
“It is worse than we feared.” She stated before nodding at someone standing behind me.
The last thing I felt was a sharp pain at the back of my neck and my hands finally releasing Elora from her captivity, as I sunk into a dreamless dark.