A Bloody Welcome
Nearly a month after the summons to the Adalthing had been sent out, a large entourage rode into Middanhal. They were led by two Order knights, meaning their passage was not hindered or subject to toll. Furthermore, both of the knights possessed such fame as to be immediately recognised. The news quickly spread that Sir William the Unyielding and Sir Adalbrand the Dragonheart had come to Middanhal.
William’s retinue was as modest as his nature, consisting only of his squire. In comparison, Brand was accompanied by his sergeant, four soldiers acting as his guard, a bard, and an apprenticed scribe. While Middanhal was familiar with much, this was an unusual band led by the two most renowned knights of the day, and all heads turned to witness their progression. Order soldiers stopped on patrol, commoners and noblemen stared, and several contingents of Red Hawks watched them keenly.
Before the Citadel, they parted ways. William and his squire rode further on to enter the northern courtyard and the Order stables; Brand and his followers entered the southern yard, leaving their horses to the stable hands.
“You should find rooms in the barracks,” he told Nicholas, Quentin, and Matthew, who were enlisted as Order soldiers. “My own chambers should accommodate you two,” he told Geberic and Glaukos. “Thank you for your service,” he finally told Egil. “Give my regards to Master Quill.”
“Yes, sir,” the young apprentice promised. The group split up, each to their destination.
Brand, followed by his remaining two guards, walked through corridors and up staircases past servants, nobleborn, and Red Hawks, until he reached the chambers that had been assigned to his house last year. He knocked heavily, and the door was opened by Arndis’ handmaiden. “Milord!” she exclaimed.
“Jenny,” he nodded. “Is your mistress at home?”
“She is,” came Arndis’ voice from inside. Brand moved forward with hurried steps, embracing his sister.
“You look well,” he smiled, retracting his head to gaze at her.
“I am well,” she replied, pulling back after a moment. “Jenny, have ale fetched for our guests.” The servant gave a quick bow and hurried off. “Geberic, well met,” Arndis told the soldier, nodding to him.
“Thank you, milady,” he replied.
“This is Glaukos. We picked him up in Tothmor, and he has stuck to us since,” Brand explained with a wry smile.
“My lady.” Glaukos gave an elegant bow.
“Well met,” she repeated before turning her attention towards Brand again. “I am surprised to see you already. I did not imagine you would arrive before another week or two.”
“I had to make it in time for the Adalthing,” Brand laughed. “There is no point in arriving after it has been held.”
“Of course, but you made it with weeks to spare,” Arndis smiled.
“What do you mean?” The mirth on Brand’s face gave way to uncertainty. “The Adalthing is in two days’ time.”
Now it was his sister who exhibited confusion. “Brand, the Adalthing is more than a fortnight away.”
The men exchanged glances. “That can’t be right,” Geberic grunted. “I saw the summons from the Quill myself. Lord Adalbrand is correct.”
“Maybe a mistake was made?” Arndis suggested.
“It is not like Quill to make such an error,” Brand frowned. “Geberic, find Quill and ask him. Sort this out.”
“Right away, milord,” Geberic promised. He left the room.
“I am sure there is an explanation,” Arndis said.
“No doubt,” Brand muttered; his expression gainsaid his words.
Almost immediately after stepping out, Geberic returned. “Something’s wrong. There’s a bunch of Red Hawks standing in either end of the corridor, and they scowled as soon as they saw me.”
Glaukos’ hand flew to his sword hilt, holding it ready. “Who are these Red Hawks?”
“Mercenaries working for the jarl of Vale,” Arndis explained.
“He is the one who called the Adalthing,” Brand considered. “The Hawks we saw at the gate, in the city… he has been watching my progress, waiting for my arrival.”
They all looked at each other. “This is a trap,” Geberic finally said out loud.
“Lock the door,” Brand commanded, which Glaukos immediately did, bolting the door. “Can we fight our way out?” Brand asked with a look at his other guard.
“There’s a lot of them,” Geberic admitted. “They can’t get to us all at once in the corridor, of course, but how many mercenaries does that bastard have in the castle? Hundreds?”
“I stand ready!” Glaukos declared fiercely.
“Geberic is right.” Brand shook his head. “That was a foolish notion by me. Maybe we can wait until nightfall and make our escape in the dark through the window.”
Geberic walked over to their suggested escape route. “It’s quite a drop,” he mentioned sceptically. “If you can climb down a bit though, it’s not so bad.”
“Brand,” Arndis spoke. “In a few days, it will be two weeks until the Adalthing assembles. The landfrid takes hold.”
“That is why I was given the false date,” Brand realised. “They needed to lure me here earlier. They dare not break the sacred peace of the Adalthing.”
“In other words, if we can wait them out for three days, you are protected by the landfrid,” Arndis pointed out. “You can walk out of here and Jarl Vale will not dare touch you.”
“That door will not hold for three days,” Glaukos pointed out.
“I need to get to the northern part of the Citadel,” Brand contemplated, marching over to the window. It gave him a view of his desired destination; the path to it went through one of the orchards supplying the castle with fresh fruit. “The Order soldiers will not permit the Hawks to take me. They can protect me for three days, after which I can leave the city unhindered.”
“How do we get you there?” asked Arndis.
“I will have to make a run for it,” Brand declared. “I will climb down under the cover of night and flee to the Order side.”
“Let’s hope for clouds,” Geberic muttered. “There’s moonlight tonight. You’ll stand out like a sheep in a coal mine, going out the window and down the wall.”
Their discussion was interrupted by a heavy knock. “Sir Adalbrand, this is Lord Konstans, dragonlord of Adalrik. I wish to speak with you.”
Everyone inside the room glanced at each other with a variety of thoughts appearing on their faces. Brand walked over to the door. “I hear you. What do you have to say?”
“Would you mind opening the door that we may discourse with civility?” Konstans requested.
“I can hear you easily,” Brand replied. “You wish to speak, so tell me what you have to say.”
“There are charges laid against you. I require you to follow me that they may be addressed. I assure you, you have nothing to fear,” Konstans claimed.
His words were received with contemptuous looks, though none inside the room gave voice to their disdain. “I thank you for bringing this to my attention,” Brand answered from his side of the door. “Will you give me some time to consider?”
It took a moment before he received a reply. “I cannot. This requires that you immediately come with me.”
“I will be with you shortly,” Brand promised. He turned away and approached the other people in the room. “How long until nightfall?” he asked quietly.
“Hours,” Geberic answered.
“He will not be delayed that long,” Brand considered. “I need to make my escape now.”
“What if you get spotted trying to climb down? They could be waiting for you,” Geberic objected.
“I will go first,” Glaukos declared. “I will hold them back and buy you time.”
They were interrupted by Konstans’ voice from beyond the door. “Sir Adalbrand. Wielding the authority of the realm, I demand you open this door now!”
“Lord Konstans,” Brand said cordially, raising his voice that he might be heard by the man outside, “you may go to Hel and give her my regards.” He turned to his men. “It has to be now.”
“I think it is too late,” Glaukos murmured.
The sound of an axe striking wood reached them. The Hawks had begun their assault upon the door. Glaukos and Geberic took position in front of it, swords drawn.
“Stay inside your chamber. There is no need to put you in danger,” Brand told Arndis, gazing around the parlour that now seemed a prison.
“Let it not be said I cowered before these villains,” Arndis declared, standing firmly next to her brother. He gave her a weak smile, drawing his own sword.
The door splintered. A hand moved through the gap in the wood to try and unlock the bolt; Glaukos stabbed the hand with his sword, prompting an outcry of pain and quick retreat by its owner. The axe resumed its work.
“Milord, it’s been an honour to serve you,” Geberic said while keeping his eyes fixed on the disintegrating door.
“You freed my home, my lord,” Glaukos added without explaining himself further.
Brand took a deep breath. “As you both showed at the battle of Polisals, no captain was ever flanked by better men.” He assumed a fighting stance, covering Arndis as best he could.
The door fell to pieces. One Red Hawk rushed through, but Glaukos easily evaded his weapon, slashed him across the shin just above his greave, and pushed him back with a kick.
His comrades pulled the Hawk back, and someone else tried their luck with passing through the door. With Glaukos waiting for him, his luck was equally poor. A third came through, a fourth. The third did not merely receive a wound, but fell to the ground dying; the fourth was engaged by Geberic and followed his fellow Hawk in death. The mercenaries pulled back and ceased sending men through the doorway to slaughter.
“You should escape, milord,” Geberic argued, speaking quietly. Although they had retreated, the Hawks could be heard moving around out in the corridor. “Before they try again.”
“He is right,” Arndis told Brand. “You have a chance.”
“We can keep them at bay meanwhile,” Glaukos added.
The young knight walked over to the window and looked out. “There are Hawks in the orchard below. It is too late.”
“Him and Hel,” Geberic swore.
Glaukos renewed his grip on his sword. “Let them come, in that case.”
When they did, their tactics had changed. The first soldiers had attacked with short swords meant for close combat, usually ideal for fighting in such tight quarters as this; they had not anticipated the presence of Glaukos, who excelled in such combat and had the advantage of a longer sword. The next wave of Hawks came with spears.
Their ability to wield the weapons in this space was limited, but they were not aiming for elegance; they simply used the long reach to force Glaukos and Geberic backwards into the room. Now several Hawks were able to press forward while using their spears to keep the defenders at a distance. The fight turned into a regular skirmish with the Hawks trying to manoeuvre further into the room to fill their numbers, and Brand and his men trying to push them back.
Arndis picked up anything that could be thrown to use it in that manner, hurling bowls, plates, needlework, and anything else possible at the attackers.
Another Hawk fell to Glaukos’ blade, but it cost him a spear piercing his thigh, causing the former Blade to roar in pain. For the first time, Brand had to move in close, protecting Glaukos by forcing the Hawk back; meanwhile, Geberic exchanged blows, dealing and taking wounds as well.
With his moment of respite, Glaukos leapt back into combat, felling the Hawk that Brand kept occupied and following it up by doing the same to Geberic’s adversary. The bodies were beginning to pile up in the room.
With every Hawk inside the parlour dead, the mercenaries delayed their next assault. Brand retreated behind his defenders, catching his breath. Both the men in front of him were wounded. He glanced back at his sister, so far unhurt.
“They’re not in a hurry, these Hawks,” Geberic growled.
“They are waiting for fatigue and injuries to take effect,” Glaukos muttered darkly.
“I’ll gladly fight three days and three nights,” proclaimed his comrade. “We’ll keep them at bay until the landfrid.” Glaukos did not reply to this other than a knowing smile.
Brand bit his lower lip until blood appeared. “We will not last that long,” he mumbled, licking the trickle of blood away. “Is anyone out there with the authority to negotiate with me?” he called out.
“I am,” Konstans replied. He appeared in the doorway, standing behind his men. “Are you ready to surrender?”
“Will my men and sister be left unharmed?”
“They will be,” Konstans promised.
“What say you Hawks?” Brand continued. “Will you keep from seeking revenge for your fallen?”
“If it gets that big bastard to stop killing more, I’m practical enough to say yes,” someone shouted. Others agreed with this position enough to satisfy Brand, who let his sword fall.
“Milord!” it burst from Geberic. “Brand!” exclaimed Arndis.
He raised his hands to silence them. “What is the point in all of us dying?”
“Very wise,” Konstans assented.
“I surrender,” Brand declared, stepping forward unarmed. Two of the Hawks approached cautiously, eyeing Glaukos and Geberic. “You need not seize me,” Brand told them. “I shall follow willingly.”
They glanced at Konstans nervously, who gave a nod. “We are all men of our word here. Escort Sir Adalbrand to the dungeons,” he told them. “Collect your dead and get your wounded to a lay brother. As for them,” he added while gesturing to the remaining people inside the room, “we have no quarrel with any of them.”
Brand glanced over his shoulder as he walked out of the room. His two defenders stared with bitter looks and bloody appearance at their master’s departure into enemy hands; his sister stood tall in the carnage, subduing any emotion that surfaced. Looking ahead, he continued to the dungeons.