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He Died a Knight

Central Adalrik

Many miles north of Lake Myr, six thousand rivermen lay encamped. They had marched from the duchy of Belvoir across the border into Adalrik. At first, their destination had been the aforementioned lake, aiming to link up with the Order’s army and defend Ingmond against the outlanders. The arrival of a messenger, explaining that Ingmond was lost, had changed their course. Reaching the Kingsroad that ran from Middanhal to Inghold, the rivermen turned north rather than south.

Two days later, the first trickle of survivors caught up with Belvoir’s forces. They brought tales of battle with the outlanders; all of them bore wounds and suffered from grievous exhaustion and hunger. Some, having spent their strength trying to reach safety, died soon after.

Witnessing this, the duke of Belvoir made a swift decision. He sent the train of his army along with the older warriors ahead, resuming the march to Middanhal. The younger, stronger, and lightly armoured soldiers, able to handle a forced march, stayed behind. Patrols left camp to scour for more survivors, and those remaining behind made stretchers to carry the wounded.

Thus, the sight of hectic activity greeted Athelstan as he reached the camp as well. Soldiers pulled down tents and either packed them away for journey or gave them new purpose; with some rope or string, the poles and fabric could swiftly be turned into yet another stretcher.

A riverman appeared, scrutinising Athelstan’s appearance. "Are you hurt, milord?" he asked, noticing the golden spurs denoting the other man’s rank. "There’s food if you need it."

"I am not hurt, and hunger may wait. I am Athelstan of Isarn, and I would speak with your duke."

"Of course, milord." The soldier pointed down the camp. "You’ll find him down there."

With a nod, the knight hurried to follow the direction given. Glancing around, he saw only soldiers, busy with their hands. "Where is the duke?"

A man, occupied with a horse and harness, straightened up and turned his head. "I am he." He pulled the straps and locked them in place, allowing the horse to carry a wounded soldier.

"I am Sir Athelstan," the knight said in introduction.

"Duke Alois of Belvoir," the young man replied. He stood with natural confidence; despite his rank and position as the most powerful nobleman in Ealond, his demeanour held no air of pretence. "We have done what we can for your soldiers, sir knight, but we cannot delay our march for long."

Athelstan extended his arm, and Alois grasped it with his own. "You have my gratitude, my lord duke. I expected you to be half-way to Middanhal already."

"We leave this afternoon. I dare not wait longer."

"Understood."

"A horse can be found for you, sir knight, I am sure."

"Use it for someone with greater need. My legs work as they should."

"Will you be ready to depart with us?"

Athelstan shook his head. "No. The men I arrived with are weakened and require rest. And stragglers may reach us from the second day of fighting."

"From what your other men have told me, such is doubtful."

"Even so, my place is here. If you have provisions to spare, I would be grateful."

The duke nodded. "Of course." This time, he extended his arm first, letting Athelstan grasp it. "May we meet in Middanhal."

"In Middanhal." The duke resumed his tasks, preparing for departure; the knight returned to his men.

~~~~

For a day and a half, Athelstan waited along with his soldiers. Most of the time was spent resting after the forced march from Ingmond. Despite pangs of hunger torturing all of them, he allowed only half rations; Middanhal was more than a week away, and they could not spare time to forage once on the road.

At last, another contingent of wounded soldiers appeared. All those who had been able to flee the second day of the battle, few as they were. Athelstan greeted them, receiving only mute replies; none had the strength to speak unless needed.

"Rest as you can," Athelstan called out. "Eat a little, but do not fill your stomachs. We are too exposed here, and we must leave soon." He glanced around at the tattered remains of the camp; it could be espied from afar. If the outlanders were on pursuit for survivors, they would surely follow the Kingsroad and soon discover this location.

Two men approached the captain, carrying a third between them. "Athelstan," came the croaked voice of Sir Ewind. He lowered the body in his hands onto the ground.

Turning towards the speaker, Athelstan’s eyes moved from the knight standing to the wounded soldier. Dread filled his face, and he fell to his knees besides Eumund.

"My boy," he mumbled, tears already welling in his eyes. He caressed his nephew’s brow.

"I told them to leave me," Eumund mumbled. "Waste of effort to drag me all this way."

"Quiet, boy, quiet. They did right. I will get you to Middanhal."

"I am dying, Uncle." He moved one hand to his stomach, covered in blood. "I suppose seeing you is my reward for holding on."

"I will find a healer for you," Athelstan told him. "You are a son of Isarn. You are strong."

"My fight is done, Uncle. I have no strength left." Eumund’s breath became shallow. "Tell them."

"What?"

"I died a knight."

"I shall have the skalds make songs," his captain promised.

The corner of Eumund’s mouth trembled in the beginnings of a smile. It faded again, and his expression grew blank. Athelstan placed both hands to frame his face, staring into blood-shot eyes that could not return his gaze.

A soldier approached. With a hesitant voice, he spoke quietly. "Pardon me, captain. The men are restless. How long must we wait?"

Athelstan took a deep breath, standing up. "No longer. We leave now. Are there any stretchers left?"

"No, captain, they’re all in use."

The knight nodded to himself. Untying his dirty cloak, Athelstan laid it on the floor. With some difficulty, he moved Eumund’s body onto the fabric. Reaching down to grab the ends of the cape, he began dragging the fallen knight with him. "We move out," he yelled to his men. Across the scattered remains of the camp, the ragged remnants of the Order army followed their captain, marching north.

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About the author

Quill

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.

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