The northern courtyard of the Citadel had its share of activity in the wake of the mustering. Carts with weapons, arrows, tents, and much more were being prepared for the next departure to the Order encampment at Lake Myr. Newly conscripted soldiers were being drilled, and there was a line of hopefuls in front of a desk manned by the servants of the Master of the Citadel.
“Next,” the scribe called out, and Nicholas stepped forward with bow staff in one hand, bag in the other.
“I’m here to enlist,” Nicholas told the man.
“Let me guess, an archer,” the clerk said dryly with a glance towards the staff in Nicholas’ hand. “Name?”
“Nicholas from Tothmor. I’m well experienced, too, I won the solstice games in archery.”
“Name does sound familiar,” the pen scribbler said, dipping his quill in ink. “Fine, I’ll take your word for it. Pay is five silver and eight petties a day. Once the war is over, if you did well, you may be offered the seven-year enlistment for peacetime. Next march to the Order camp is tomorrow before the noon bell, don’t miss it,” the scribe rattled off his instructions. “You’ll be considered conscripted from tomorrow on when you join the march, but the first couple days’ of pay will be withheld to pay for your gear.”
“I got my own bow,” Nicholas pointed out, raising the staff in his hand. “I don’t need you to pay for that.”
“Not me paying for it, mate,” the clerk said, eyeing the staff. “Fine, I’ll make one day less without pay.”
“One day?” Nicholas protested. “In Tothmor, a bow like this is worth ten times that at least.”
“Still not me paying,” said the unflinching man. “Not up to me. Now move on, next!”
Nicholas was pushed aside, and while he was contemplating raising further objections, his and others’ attention was grabbed by a man that sprinted up to them. “Have you heard?” he said, gasping for breath. “Heard the news yet?”
The extensive gardens of the Citadel were popular amongst the ladies of the court. Their chambers and quarters tended to acquire a certain dusty atmosphere, whereas the roses and flowers of the gardens gave a pleasant scent. Before noon, the ladies could enjoy the warmth of the sun; after noon, the pavilions and trees provided ample shade. The sister of the jarl of Theodstan took especial delight in this area, coming from a region that was stony and with few wild-growing flowers.
“My lady,” Arndis said, bowing before Theodwyn, who gestured for the girl to take a seat by her.
“Thank you for joining me,” Theodwyn said smiling. “I trust my handmaiden did not intrude?”
“Not at all, my lady,” Arndis hurried to say. “I was already awake and dressed, and I am always happy to see your ladyship.”
“Someone really taught you how to flatter, did they not,” Theodwyn said while glancing elsewhere. “Truth be told, I enjoy my mornings here because there is much to see,” she continued, abruptly changing the topic or else simply continuing from an unspoken thought. “Currently there is a young man who often sees a young woman here, and both their fathers are unaware.”
“Should their fathers not be told then?” asked Arndis concerned. “It might ruin both their reputations.”
“Oh, do not worry, dear,” Theodwyn laughed. “They are as shy as butterflies and as quick to flutter away. I do not think either of them has one immodest thought in their heads. But they are a great source of entertainment for me. They behave like actors in a stage play, always meeting under the trees or by the fountain. As if they had read in books how to court one another,” Theodwyn mused.
“If you say so,” Arndis said, sounding less convinced. “Is that one of them there?”
“I do not think they are coming today,” Theodwyn said, narrowing her eyes to inspect a woman that had entered the gardens. “Hence why I asked you for company.”
The lady that had caught their attention was wearing a veil obscuring her features. She walked over to a flowerbed full of many different inhabitants; the woman knelt down slightly and poured a cup of water over a cluster of blue flowers, whose petals were shaped like bells.
“That is intriguing,” Theodwyn said. “I wonder which lady feels the need to be veiled at this hour. I do feel my absence from court. In the old days, I would have recognised her by the shape of her dress.”
“I do not doubt you would have,” Arndis granted.
Their attention was caught by Theodwyn’s handmaiden, running through the gardens until she reached her mistress. “Alyssa,” Theodwyn said in an admonishing tone. “Ladies never run, certainly not where all may see them.”
“But milady,” the handmaiden replied while panting for breath, “there are terrible tidings.”
“What now, are we being invaded again? Which realm is it this time?”
“Far worse, milady,” Alyssa said with a trembling voice.
From the south gate, they came walking slowly, solemnly. Every kingthane had dismounted and walked in procession either ahead of or behind Berimund and the other thane holding the cloak. All along the Arnsweg people crowded, stretching necks, whispering, and spreading the word. Women wept, men muttered, priests prayed, children chattered, and soldiers saluted by falling to one knee. The kingthanes spared no glances to either side of the road but simply walked steadily onwards. A throng of people was clustered around the procession, but none dared come too close, and the masses of people parted before the golden dragon on their surcoats. Tears flowed like the river coursed through the city underneath their feet as they passed the Arnsbridge. At the Temple square, the sounds of merchants haggling, peddlers hawking, and vendors harassing were silenced and gave way to cries of anguish.
“The young dragon is dead,” they mourned, beating their chests in despair. “Sigvard’s blood, Sigvard’s blood! Who now shall guard us?”
“Alas for Adalrik,” came another, “the House of Adal has fallen!”
“Sigvard, Sigvard, why have you abandoned us?”
“Gods have mercy, the dragons are gone!”
“Who can lead us but Sigvard’s blood? Gods help us!” This and many other cries of woe were heard.
As the procession passed beyond the square and approached the Citadel, the onlookers were increasingly noble of birth. The jarl Valerian stood in red and golden cloak, flanked by his chamberlain on one side and his nephew on the other. “I cannot see,” Konstantine said, and a few of their guards pushed people out of the way.
“This is disaster,” Valerian muttered. “The boy was meant for us, for our care.”
“He could not have arrived in Valcaster yet, milord,” Arion pointed out. “None can hold you accountable.”
“Yet I am sure they will,” Valerian said, glancing at the grieving crowds, wailing and weeping all around them for a boy they had never seen except for the occasional glimpse from afar at festivities. “Send a bird to my brother. Tell him of the news and bid him return.”
“At once, milord,” Arion said before he with difficulty made his way through the people, all straining themselves to catch a glimpse of the dead prince upon his improvised bier.
Elsewhere in the crowd stood the jarl of Isarn with his kinsmen. “What a grievous day for the realms,” Athelstan remarked.
“It truly – is,” Isenwald said, his voice thick, and his uncle placed a reassuring hand upon his shoulder.
“This is an opportunity,” Isenhart said, mostly to himself.
“What did you say, Brother?” Athelstan asked.
“Let us return home,” the jarl said in a louder voice. “We can show our respect once they lay him to rest.”
The jarl of Theodstan came out of the Citadel, pushing his way forward until he reached the procession and could confirm it with his own eyes; the sight caused him to stand open-mouthed in shock.
As the last of the four jarls, Ingmond observed the kingthanes from a window inside the castle as they reached the courtyard. He was alone, and his face revealed no emotions or thoughts lying underneath.
“Sigvard’s blood, Sigvard’s blood,” Brand said with a low voice, striking his chest above his heart each time he spoke the first syllable of the name. “Do you think they saluted my father thus when he died?”
“Your father died in Heohlond,” Quill said hesitantly. “Depends on the men he was surrounded by.”
“I suppose,” Brand said with his attention on the procession. He had been hiding from his creditors in Quill’s domain. The windows of the library tower had an excellent view of the southern courtyard, and now they could see members of court streaming out of the inner gate. The lady Isabel, no longer a mother, threw herself on top of the body and nestled Sigmund’s cold head in her arms. They could not hear any sounds through the window, but it was easy to imagine the screams made by dead boy’s mother.
“I heard a bard sing it… how was it,” Quill muttered and began to sing quietly.
“Away he rode, with all his men
And never to return again
His eyes are closed, his body cold
The Dragonheart who was of old.”
As Quill’s voice faded away, Brand continued with the chorus.
“The heart, the heart of Adalrik
So young and bold, so strong and quick
But he will never see the morrow
For that’s the sorrow of Glen Hollow.”
There was a pause before Brand spoke. “Do you think they will sing songs of us when we are gone?”
“You, perhaps,” Quill said with a faint smile. “But not for an old librarian.”
“If this continues,” Brand said darkly, “songs are all that will remain of the line of Sigvard.” With a last glimpse at the courtyard, he turned away from the spectacle below and left the tower.
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Bio: Indie writer with various projects, though The Chronicles of Adalmearc is the one dearest to me. Because of this, I have decided to make it free to reach as many readers as possible. If you enjoy it, I would ask you to consider joining my Patreon; certain tiers from $5 and above will earn towards receiving the full series as hardcovers. Advance chapters are available from $2 and upwards. See also my website for more information on my work and world.