The Brothers Swordsmen


Barely past dawn, the soldiers of Adalmearc prepared across the city. From Lowtown to the Citadel, they gathered on the Arnsweg. In the castle itself, both the northern and southern courtyards were completely packed. All farewells had to be made inside before the noblemen, knights, and soldiers walked outside to take their place in formation. From the windows, their families watched them march out, not knowing if they would return.


Once the armies of Adalmearc had left the city, an anxious mood descended upon those staying behind. The streets appeared nearly empty as most people stayed indoors. An ill wind seemed in the air with battle on the horizon; few had any appetite for work or trade.

As an exception, the alderman of the guilds trudged his way to the Citadel, accompanied by some guards. Summoned to meet the jarl of Vale, he passed through the gate, crossed the now empty courtyard, and entered the castle. He encountered only servants and the occasional courtier until he reached the jarl's wing, where a handful of thanes stood guard; the rest had been sent to fight.

As the alderman entered Valerian's study, he found the royal treasurer sat behind his desk, but the usual stacks of books and ledgers had been cleared away. Only a single piece of paper lay in on it, filled with numbers. The jarl looked up and gestured for his visitor to take a seat.

Licking his lips, Edwin sat down opposite Valerian. "What did you need to see me for, milord?"

"I have concluded my investigations into the guilds."

"I see."

"It has taken me weeks to compare list after list, ledger after ledger," the jarl declared. "All the profits made by the members of every single guild, compared to the taxes paid."

"A monumental achievement, milord."

"According to my figures, since you became alderman, the guilds have underpaid their taxes to a sum of four thousand, three hundred and fifty-seven golden crowns, thirty-two silver eagles, and three copper petties."

"Three coppers, even. What an exact number."

The jarl smiled. "I have been thorough. Trust me on that."

"I do not doubt that."

"Furthermore, the guilds have claimed to pay the wages of the mercenary company, The Unbroken Shields. Yet no more than half that company is presently in the city, as the other half is claimed to be away protecting trade caravans. Of course, with most of the trade at a standstill, that seems a dubious claim. Which makes me consider whether that is simply a ploy, and to save coin, you have dismissed the mercenaries rather than pay their wages."

"Is that a question, milord? Did you summon me here to ask that?"

Valerian's smile broadened. "Truthfully, I simply wanted to tell you the news in person. You may expect all your personal belongings to be seized and the guilds to be punitively taxed as recompense. While theft is not usually punished by execution, even theft from the Crown, an exception may be made given the severity of the crime." The jarl exhaled a sigh. "Gods, the satisfaction of unravelling all of this. Finally laying all the cards on the table. You have been a worthy adversary, master alderman, but you could not fool me."

Edwin fiddled with the ring on his finger. "Amusing that in the end, it would be you of all people to see through me. I admit, the masquerade has been most tiresome."

Valerian leaned back in his seat with a smug expression. "Never underestimate the importance of good bookkeeping."

"Bowing and scraping to lesser men, simply because the chance of birth placed them in high positions." The alderman scraped his tongue against his teeth. "While I was born on the streets of Middanhal and had to claw my way through the world!"

The jarl looked at him, taken aback. "Hear now, no need to shout. You tried to cheat, and you lost. Time to face the consequences, my good alderman. Guards!"

"No position was ever simply given to me." A sneer ran across Edwin's face. "I killed my master to take his place. I killed the guild master to take his. I killed the alderman to take his. I have killed kings and princes, and I am not done."

"Good gods, you sound positively deranged. Guards!"

Edwin removed the gemstone on his ring, revealing the needle underneath. "You wondered where I kept those mercenaries? My dear Valerian, I brought them with me."

From the hallway, noise could be heard. Frowning, the jarl stood up and quickly crossed the room. He opened the door. Screams and sounds of battle spilled into the chamber. Outside, his few thanes were desperately fighting several men wearing the emblem of The Unbroken Shields.

"I'm glad you summoned me," came the voice behind him. "You see, I also wanted to do this in person."

Valerian turned around to see Edwin's raised hand coming at him. The poisoned needle on his ring glistened in the pale sunlight from the window.

Stepping back, the jarl evaded the alderman's hand. "Slapping a jarl? Are you insane, man!"

Edwin tried again, but Valerian dodged the blow as before. Quickly, the jarl turned around and fled down the hallway.

"Help! Brigands! Bandits! Impertinent bastards!"

He ran past the fighters, avoiding errant sword blows. Crossing from the courtside to the Order side of the castle, the jarl continued his cries of alarm; behind him, the increasing noise of battle reinforced his message.

He burst into Theobald's study. The captain looked up from his map of the city, detailing the sparse garrison left behind. "What is it?"

"Enemies," Valerian gasped, catching his breath. "Here!"

"In the city?" exclaimed the captain, rising to his feet. "Where?"

"Castle! Courtside! We are betrayed," the jarl stuttered through rapid breathing. "Mercenaries and Ingmond's men."

Theobald drew his sword and reached for a shield hanging on the wall. "Run to the Temple," he told the jarl. "Tell the Templars we need help! Go through the northern gate!"

"Yes," Valerian assented, "just – one moment. Going – going now." As the captain rushed out of the room, the jarl followed at his own pace.


With the gate open and barely any garrison, the attackers faced little opposition. They swept through the Citadel, butchering the few Order soldiers guarding the southern side of the castle. As servants and courtiers alike hid in fear, locking themselves in, the fighting spread across the fortress. In the northern side, where the Order had living quarters, many wounded and recovering soldiers could be found; despite their injuries, they had to arm themselves and join the frantic defence.

Descending from the jarl's chambers, Edwin passed through the corridors painted with blood. He stepped around the bodies to make his way towards the throne room. He walked past two dead kingthanes, each of them surrounded by several fallen mercenaries. Inside the large hall itself, several servants lay dead along with more warriors of the various colours. The alderman moved around these as well until at last, he stood before the throne.

He walked up the steps, his shoes leaving a trail of blood. With a sigh of satisfaction, he turned around to sit down upon the throne.

He sat in silence, gazing upon the corpses in the hall, until one of the smaller doors opened. Ten mercenaries walked in, pushing a prisoner with them. It was the captain of the Citadel, bleeding from many wounds.

"There are some pockets of resistance," one of the soldiers told the alderman. "A few kingthanes have barricaded the royal wing, and the Order closed the northern gate before we could get in. We have to take the rest of the castle going through the hallways."

"Not an issue, I take it," Edwin said.

"Hardly, milord. It'll just take time."

"You despicable traitor!" Theobald rushed forward, but the haft of a spear tripped him, making the mercenaries laugh.

"My dear captain, how you always looked down on me. I rather enjoy this reversal." Edwin smirked from his seat as Theobald lay in the dust and blood on the ground before him. "But I must say – you seem to have made a miraculous recovery. For a cripple, you move rather fast."

"Doesn't fight like one either," a mercenary admitted. "Bastard killed eight of us before we got him. Taking him alive didn't make it easier on us either. There better be compensation for that."

"Yes, yes, gold is the least of our concerns. After all, I do have plenty of it," the alderman smiled. "I've kept you alive, captain, that you might tell your brethren to surrender their arms. End the pointless bloodshed."

Pushing himself up, Theobald tried to stand. A soldier slapped a hand on his shoulder, keeping him on his knees. "Master alderman," he spat, "you will face the same fate as every other tyrant. If the gods are kind, I will be there to watch."

"Predictable," Edwin sighed. "All you knights and thanes are the same. Look at the soldiers around you!" He gestured to the mercenaries. "Your honour will get you killed, while my gold will make them rich. Only a fool would choose as you did."

"As grating as I find your voice and words, you will have to use steel to kill me," Theobald retorted.

"But you are not as simple a fool as these others, are you, captain," the alderman continued. "All the years I have known you, you've limped. Quite conspicuously. Perhaps more than was warranted? But what could be the reason for that?"

Theobald did not deign to reply. His breathing had become ragged, and blood continued to trickle from the worst of his injuries.

"Did you grow tired of war, my good captain? Always being sent away on campaigns. A man with a bad leg can't ride a horse into battle," Edwin speculated. "Did you pretend all these years, just to have a safe, comfortable position here in the Citadel? Well, for the first time, I may have found respect for you, Captain Theobald." He spoke the title with a smile. In the distance, the sounds of battle grew louder.

"I never had any for you. Hoarding your gold to have others fight your battles for you."

"Hardly," Edwin suddenly sneered. "I was eight when I killed for the first time, captain. I had found half a loaf of bread – a treasure to an orphan like me. Another boy tried to steal it, and I bashed his skull in with a rock. I found three copper coins on him, captain, and I have never felt so rich as I did that day. More than that, do you know what I learned?"

"Spare me."

"There was no punishment. I had killed him, taken what had been his, like he tried to take what was mine. I was rewarded. So you see, captain, while you practised with wooden swords and ate every night till your belly was full, I survived on scraps, fighting for every morsel!"

"You are nothing but a coward." Disgust filled Theobald's voice. "Like a toothless viper, striking only when your enemy is defenceless."

Shrill laughter came from the throne. "You don't see? It was not grief that killed the old king. It was not highlanders that killed his son. It was not brigands who killed his grandson. For twenty years, I have steered this kingdom to ruin, preparing for this moment. I have earned this throne."

Theobald's eyes narrowed, becoming full of hate. "You lie. You could not have done all that."

"I had some help," the alderman admitted. "I found an ally who gave me many gifts. Even now, his armies have drawn out all defenders, leaving the city in my hands."

"Gods, I hope your death is painful."

"The feeling is mutual, captain, and unlike you, I have the power to see my hopes come true." The alderman turned to look at the nearest mercenary. "If he will not help us, we have no need of him alive." The hired blade grinned and raised his sword.

One of the smaller doors into the hall burst open. A soldier wearing Ingmond's livery stumbled backwards and fell to the ground. After him followed a Templar in all his fury.

"Kill him!" The mercenaries lowered spears and formed ranks, holding the knight back.

Behind them, Theobald glanced up. One soldier had stayed by the prisoner, but his attention remained on the Templar like the others. Leaping into action, the captain thrust his head into the mercenary's stomach. The rings on his chain shirt tore into Theobald's face, but he fell upon his enemy, grabbing the knife from his belt to stab him in his throat.

Blood pouring down his brow to nearly blind him, Theobald rose with the dagger in his hand.

"Help!" squealed Edwin, his voice lost in the din of the fighting. "Mercy!"

Staggering up the steps, the captain approached the alderman. "No."

"Please! I'll pay you anything!" Edwin begged.

"All your gold cannot buy my honour," Theobald exhaled. He plunged the dagger into the pretender's chest before grabbing his tunic to pull him down from his seat. Edwin tumbled down to land by the foot of the throne, bleeding to death. His strength expired, the captain fell to the ground, dying next to alderman.


In the Temple, the departure of forty-nine Templars had left a fearful mood. Many of the priests and priestesses could be found in frantic prayer, whether in the Hall of Holies or their own cells. Others gathered in small circles, wondering and speculating at what had happened, though few had any idea; even the blackrobes seemed taken by surprise.

Sitting by the basin in the gardens, the highfather had no attendants except the sole remaining Templar, standing guard. Surrounded by frantic whispers across the great courtyard, he appeared almost serene in his quietude.

This lasted until a blackrobe hastened across the open space to approach Septimus. The silver patterns on his clothing proclaimed him the leader of Rihimil's priesthood. "What news, Eadric?" asked the highfather.

"Still fighting at the Citadel, but the soldiers on the northern walls have joined in the fight. Between our Templars and the remaining Order troops, we should prevail. Yet there is another matter."


"Only some of the mercenaries have attacked the Citadel. Others, a few hundred at least, hold the Arnsbridge. Furthermore, this morning, one of our brothers in Lowtown saw soldiers scattered around the district, bearing the insignia of Ingmond. After the army had moved out."

"It makes sense to control the bridge, I suppose, but surely they will surrender once their assault on the Citadel has failed?"

"But Jarl Vale told us half the mercenary company quartered in Lowtown. A thousand men," Eadric pointed out. "Why would these traitors concentrate so many troops south of the river when the hardest battle would be the Citadel? Something is amiss."

"The walls!" exclaimed the Templar.

The highfather looked over his shoulder and up at the knight behind him. "Explain."

"They have enough men to take the southern walls. The garrison will not expect to be attacked from within. After that, the traitors can close the gates. If our army needs to retreat from the battle..."

"They will be caught against the walls and slaughtered," Eadric muttered.

"And worse than that," the knight continued, "even a small force of say, one thousand men, moving out to attack our army in the back at the height of the battle? Our lines would break. Our forces would be annihilated."

"What can be done?" asked Septimus. "Would these soldiers stand aside if the highfather of the Temple bade them?"

"The mercenaries are southrons," Eadric pointed out, shaking his head. "We must fight them."

"All our soldiers are fighting at the Citadel. They will never reach it in time," the Templar argued.

Eadric looked around. "We will have to fight." Seeing the other two staring at him, he continued. "There are sanctified weapons at the Temple, or tools that may serve. The whiterobes have their hammers. The greenrobes have bows. Even a dagger will have to do."

"Against experienced soldiers in armour? It will be a slaughter!" argued the knight.

"Eadric is right. At least some of our brothers and sisters can fight. All those who can, must," Septimus declared. He looked up at the Templar. "You must lead them, Sir Tancred."

"I stayed behind to ensure you would be protected, Holy One," the knight protested.

"My survival is irrelevant. If I would be any use, I would fight as well. Go, sir knight, and fight on my behalf. Save our city."

Looking from the highfather to the blackrobe, the Templar clenched his jaw and finally nodded. "Tell every man or woman to grab a weapon if they can wield one. We have to leave at once."


While robes of different colours left the Temple in great numbers, a wanderer came the other way. He entered the courtyard, looking around with a confused expression. Noticing Septimus, sitting alone, he approached the highfather.

"What has happened?" asked Godfrey. "I return to find fighting in the Citadel, and the Temple looks deserted."

"Traitors in the city," Septimus explained. "They attacked the Citadel, and I sent the Templars to aid. But now we learn that they hold Lowtown and the Arnsbridge. They will lock the gate against our army outside the city, or attack them in the rear."

Shock took hold of Godfrey's face. "That's madness! The city will fall!"

"I sent all my brethren to fight – all those that can. I pray they can stop the traitors, but I fear – I fear they will be slaughtered." The old priest's voice shivered, and his eyes began to glisten. "Everything is lost, Godfrey. In one day. All our efforts made in vain."

"No," muttered the wanderer. "I will not accept this."

He turned away and cast his gaze in every direction until he found his prey. Striding across the yard, he approached one corner where two men sat against the wall, covered by cloak and hood.

"You are needed," Godfrey told them. "There's fighting in the city."

One of the men cast down his hood. He rose to reveal his full height, greater than the man who spoke to him. Removing his blindfold to reveal even-coloured eyes, the beggar Ælfwine turned himself into Alfmod of old. "We came as you bid to defend the Tree. Do not ask more of us."

"You must! Our enemy is outside the city, but his servants are already within. They will pave the way for him. He must be stopped!"

"I feel the battle already," muttered the Elf's companion. He did as Alfmod had, removing his trappings to reveal himself as Alfbrand. "Death stalks this city and beyond. It suffocates the mind. This land is dead, Godfrey, and every moment spent is a thorn in my flesh. Yet we came. Now you would have us drive those thorns into our eyes?"

"Let the sons of Men drive our enemy back," Alfmod added. "We will fight if they fail."

"They will fail! The Godking has proven more cunning than we fought. Our defenders are betrayed," Godfrey impressed upon them.

"Every life taken is another stain," Alfmod continued. "You know what it is that you ask."

"I do, and I ask it nonetheless."

"I have not drawn my sword in a thousand years," Alfbrand muttered. "I had hoped for another thousand years to pass."

"You will have to fight today," Godfrey told them. "If you do not seek the enemy now, he will find you soon. The only difference is that if you strike first, you may save countless lives."

The two Elves looked at each other. "If we return from this, the burden upon us will be heavy," Alfbrand said.

"If we do not return, the burden will be yours," Alfmod added, glancing at Godfrey.

"Such is my lot."

With deep breaths, the Elves opened their bags and began to arm themselves.


Scores of bodies lay on the Arnsbridge, dressed in different colours. Black, green, yellow, blue, and white. On the southern end, mercenaries stood in a shield wall with spears aimed at the slender passage. To the north, those same colours could be found on priests and priestesses still alive. They wielded a strange assortment of weapons, such as tools for harvest or smithing. Many had injuries; those with the most grievous wounds had already been carried back to the Temple.

Standing out from his companions, Sir Tancred stood at the edge of the bridge, gazing across its span to the host of spears waiting. Although wearing armour, he bled from gashes here and there; even armed with a great sword, he had not been able to lead his ragged band of would-be warriors to break through the enemy line.

"We must attack again," demanded Caradoc Whitesark, whose bright robe had stains of red. Having followed the king from Heohlond to the Reach, he enjoyed pre-eminence among not only his brothers, but most of the clergy. A great hammer rested in his hands, familiar with crushing skulls in many places. Yet even the respect afforded him did not seem to lend his words any stirring effect; exhausted and fearful, the other robes did not meet his eyes.

"Perhaps if we place archers in those buildings," the Templar considered, pointing at the nearest structures that nonetheless stood some distance from the bridge.

"Our arrows will be hard pressed to reach that far," admitted a greenrobe. She held a shortbow in her hands, meant for hunting small game or birds. "We can try, but in that case, it would be best to lure them out onto the bridge, closer."

"We could use the spears as javelins," suggested a silrobe, wielding such a weapon.

"They are meant for fishing, not throwing," Tancred argued. "They will not hit well."

"I'll go first," roared Caradoc. "I'll smash some heads, and you can follow!"

"You will die before that. It has to be me," the knight claimed. "I am the only one in armour."

As they discussed, two warriors pushed through the crowd of robes. Tall and armed in shining steel, they drew every gaze; at the sight of their single-coloured eyes, the stares shied away. Reaching the knight, their appearance made the discussion fall to silence.

"We will open a gap in their line," declared Alfmod. "You must take advantage of it quickly before they can reform their ranks."

The Templar stared. "Are you gods or Hel-spawn?"

Alfmod exhaled. "Allies." He glanced briefly at Tancred. "Remember! Move swiftly, or the advantage is lost."

Stepping onto the bridge, the two Elves grasped shield and blade. For the first time since the Great War and the battle of Valmark, the pair known as the Brothers Swordsmen drew their weapons together. The sea-steel shone in the daylight; the sun seemed to grow brighter. They moved forward.

Ahead waited fifty spears, six feet long. A wall of iron and death, impossible to penetrate without being impaled. The cousins continued their march; fifty paces became forty, thirty, and twenty.

They shared a look and a nod; no words needed to be exchanged. They began to run. Twenty turned to fifteen, ten, eight, and as the spears loomed before them, the greatest warriors to walk the lands sprang into action.

Alfmod fell to the ground, rolling and sliding forward. His shield pushed the lowest spears up, giving him passage underneath to slash his sword into unprotected ankles.

Alfbrand leapt onto the parapet of the bridge, using it as a steppingstone to jump over the wall of iron. As his shield and sword deflected the spears raised hastily against him, he crashed down among the mercenaries, pushing them to the ground.

At once, both Elves were on their feet, standing back to back. Recovering from the surprise, the mercenaries found their spears unwieldy in the close combat. Several of them fell to quick sword strokes before they could draw their own blades. A circle of corpses grew, causing further disruption. Finally, the soldiers began to strike from all sides, forcing the Elves to defend and deflect, unable to retaliate.

A two-handed sword clove a helmet. A great hammer crushed another. Arrows flew. Like a wedge driven into the opening made by the cousins, the robes drove into the ranks of their enemy. With the pressure relieved, the Elves could move offensively once more. Their swords cut again and again, felling a foe each time. The gap widened, the wedge drove further, until the defensive lines began to fall apart.


Once they no longer could hold the Arnsbridge, the mercenaries made a swift retreat. In pursuit, Sir Tancred led the priests and priestesses to the southern walls, where the soldiers of Ingmond had massacred the remaining garrison. This completed, they had assembled before the gate, ready to sally out when the fleeing mercenaries reached them. Already, many of the drakonian soldiers seemed shaken by the command to attack the garrison, questioning the jarl and his allies. Seeing a horde of priests and priestesses descend upon them broke their spirits. They threw their weapons aside, unwilling to slaughter men and women of the clergy, and fled into Lowtown.

Defiant, the jarl once known as Raymond the Pious demanded his thanes and loyal warriors to fight. A dreadful battle ensued. Wearing no armour other than leather, the servants of the Temple fell in great numbers to terrible sacrilege. The robes were outmatched.

A hundred horses came riding down the Arnsweg. The highfather had sent word to the Citadel of this second danger; with the enemy driven from the castle, Templars and Order soldiers arrived on every steed they had been able to find. Some were old warhorses, no longer deemed fit for battle; others were draught horses, taken from merchants, or mares meant to bear young noblewomen rather than fully armoured soldiers. Regardless, they served the purpose; the remaining resistance fell apart. As one of the last still fighting, Ingmond turned his sword on himself.


Alfbrand and Alfmod did not follow the others to the gate at first; instead, they stayed at the bridge and tended to their injuries. As they saw the reinforcements from the Citadel rode past them, making their involvement unnecessary, they finally continued in the same direction at a calm pace, reaching the edge of the city. They walked past corpses to ascend the wall. From here, they gazed southwards upon the battle being fought on the slopes of Valmark.


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About the author


Bio: Indie writer with various projects, currently focused on writing Firebrand. See my other fictions on this profile or my website for my previously completed projects.

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