The Princess and the Guard

Short story time once more!

As per usual, please share, comment, and subscribe if you have not done so. If you share this, please credit me.

This story may one day get expanded upon or given a part two or worked into a novel of mine in some way. I’m not quite sure yet. The fight scene in this still needs some work, but hopefully you can follow it well enough. Warning: this story does contain some blood, violence, and gore, in case you’re sensitive to that sort of thing.

Without further ado, I hope you enjoy this story!

The Princess and the Guard

“My, don’t you look dashing in your new armor.”

Fidor sighed quietly and struggled to keep his lips from curling into a smile. As a newly appointed royal guard to the princess, he was expected to retain a quiet, calm, and imposing demeanor, especially with all the veteran officers watching for any minor mistake he might make. This would have been easy had the princess he was assigned to guard been anyone else.

As it was, the current heir to the throne was far from what one might normally expect of a princess.

Sure she might wear fancy clothes, be a little spoiled some times, and participate with perfect decorum at any elaborate gathering of pompous people, but she also had a “man-ish” streak a kilometer wide.

It was not unusual to find her practicing swordsmanship, archery, or jousting in the courtyard right alongside the knights and squires. Likewise, she might send the entire castle into an uproar by wandering off into the surrounding woods in a man’s clothes without telling a soul. What would have been the final straw to the king and court, if any but Fidor knew, was her knowledge of swimming and immense enjoyment of the activity.

“Come on, Fidor,” Onalla said, standing in front of him with her hands on her hips, auburn hair cascading in ringlets down her back and over her shoulders, her hazel eyes bright. “Relax!”

“I can’t,” he hissed through gritted teeth. “You know they’re always watching.”

The princess snorted in a very unladylike manner and sarcastically looked around the stone hall outside her room, her elegant yet simple white and red dress swishing about as it followed her exaggerated turns. There were no windows, as her room was strategically placed near the center of the castle, and only a few paintings hanging on the walls in which one might install a peephole for spying.

“They haven’t caught me yet,” she said, then quickly amended her statement when Fidor raised an eyebrow, “Well, they’ve caught me twice, but I was still just a novice then. Trust me. I’ve checked all the places where they can spy on us. I’ll know if one of them decides to take a peek.”

Fidor shook his head ever so slightly.

“I can’t. I don’t want to be kicked off the guard on my first day.”

“Fine,” Onalla sighed. “Can I at least sit next to you and talk? It’s been years since we’ve had a chance to be alone with each other.”

That was true. For the past several years, Fidor had been rigorously training to become a guard and then a royal guard. In all that time he’d hardly been able to exchange more than a few words with Onalla, and only in a frivolously formal fashion due to the presence of noblemen and women.

“Yes,” Fidor said, smiling, “You can sit and talk.”

Grinning widely, Onalla clambered up onto an elevated grotto in the wall and sat down, her dress likely getting smudged. This let her sit while still keeping her at eye level with him.

“So,” she began, “how was guard training?”

“Ugh,” he groaned.

“That bad, huh?”

“Not completely awful, but when you have to stand at attention in the hot sun for hours, it can become very unpleasant.”

“Well, at least you’re indoors now.”

“Thank heavens for that. How was queen training?”

“Ugh,” she answered in much the same way he had.

“That bad?” he teased.

“It wouldn’t have been if my lessons had actually contained anything on actually ruling the kingdom. Instead, it was all about how to act at parties or special events. There was even a course on how to look for a husband.”

“You must be joking.”

“I sincerely wish I was.”

The hall was silent for several long minutes. Fidor could feel her eyes watching him as he stood stiffly at attention. He hoped the helmet he was wearing covered the sides of his face enough to hide the rising blush that he futilely fought to keep down. He gripped his halberd tighter to distract himself and set his eyes firmly down the hall. Remembering his training, he fought the nagging urge to straighten his strategically sparse armor.

“I’ve missed you Fi,” Onalla said quietly.

Fidor looked over at her, shocked at how solemn her words had been. Her usual fiery presence had suddenly become much more subdued, her eyes riveted to the floor stones.

“I know you became a guard so we could see each other after they stopped us from being playmates,” she continued, “But it was so hard to have you so close and yet never allowed to talk to you.”

“Yes,” he said, lowering his gaze, “It was difficult for me too. I saw you walking the walls whenever we were practicing combat in the courtyard.”

“I may be allowed to train with knights, but I could never get permission to train with the ‘common rabble.’”

“I’m still amazed we were ever allowed to play together as kids in the first place.”

“I think it’s because you were the only one willing to deal with me,” she chuckled.

“Probably,” he chuckled back. “And it’s that trait which is going to help me keep my job.”

“True enough,” she said, laughing out loud.

When she stopped laughing, their eyes finally fully met for the first time in a long while. Fidor stared longingly into her kaleidoscopic brown, green, and gold irises with his own dark brown ones. They stayed that way for a long time.

“Well, well, well,” a very familiar voice said jovially, “If it isn’t the two terrors of Pikus Castle, together again. Lords have mercy on us.”

The princess and the guard turned to face the newcomer approaching from the corridor. He was tall and slim, with slicked back black hair and a pointed beard and mustache of the same color. He was dressed in the rich green clothes of the royal adviser, with a beak like, hook nose accentuating that image perfectly. In contrast to these features, he was smiling with mirth evident in his dark eyes.

“Gyvan!” Onalla exclaimed, running up to the man and pulling him into a powerful hug.

“Good evening to you as well, princess,” Gyvan managed to choke out past Onalla’s bone crushing hug. “I would greatly appreciate it if you not strangle me before I have a chance to see you crowned queen.”

“Sorry,” she giggled, releasing the adviser.

“It’s quite alright,” he chuckled, then turning to Fidor. “And hello to you as well, Fidor.”

“Lord Adviser,” Fidor greeted, bowing overly low.

“Tsk, tsk. I see we have much to teach you about greeting your friends, dear guard,” Gyvan teased.

“My apologies, good sir,” Fidor teased back. “But it might take some time to relearn my manners around friends. My training was quite intensive.”

“Both of you stop talking and come here!” Onalla commanded, pulling the two taller men into a three-way embrace.

Fidor laughed and finally relaxed long enough to return the hug, focusing most of his attention toward Onalla.

“So,” Onalla said, once she’d finally released the two men from her arms, “what brings you down here, Gyvan?”

“Mostly a chance to see my old charges reunited once more,” the advisor said, giving them both a big wink. “However, I also came seeking relief from the goings on in the throne room.”

“Ah, yes,” Onalla grumbled, “my father’s ‘border negotiations’ with neighboring kingdoms, specifically the ones with bachelor kings or princes. A little rude to schedule that for the same day as the induction ceremony for the new royal guards.”

“I suppose you’ve already figured out what it really is then?”

“Everyone knew what it really was the moment it was announced,” Fidor said.

“I really don’t understand what my father hopes to accomplish by marrying me off to one of those buffoons. At most he gets more land, but he’ll lose it the minute he dies, at which point my hypothetical husband would take control.”

Gyvan frowned and grunted in agreement, but Fidor saw he was hiding something.

“Honestly,” Fidor said, ignoring Gyvan’s secretiveness for now, “I’m more nervous about the entourages his majesty’s guests brought with them. That northern king must have an entire tribe of sea raiders serving as his guards.”

“Lord Urvalt of the Southwestern Wastes is the one that concerns me most,” Gyvan said, stroking his beard. “His Faceless Men are unnerving. If the Barbarians weren’t such an issue right now, these royals would have no excuse for bringing this many soldiers within our borders, much less our capital city.”

“Why have the Barbarians been so aggressive lately?” Onalla asked. “According to what little political history my teachers let me study, the tribes of the Inner Wastes agreed to leave the Outer Wastes be. Yet now I hear that the tribes have united and are starting to push out?”

“Your father really hasn’t been letting you in on much,” Gyvan sighed. “The tribes agreed to peace only if they were to be left alone in return. However, the kingdoms of the Outer Wastes, including Lord Urvalt’s, have been slowly encroaching on Barbarian territory for decades. The only reason the tribes haven’t retaliated till now is because they knew they’d stand no chance against the armies of the combined Outer Wastes that would surely band together and crush them.”

“And no one has called out the Outer Wastes kingdoms and told them to stop?”

“Who would bother?” Fidor said. “No peasant cares about anything that happens beyond his village, much less his kingdom. All the kings are busy jostling for power, so they have no time to care. Everyone else either doesn’t know about it or doesn’t have the power to do anything even if they cared. I didn’t know about all this till just now.”

“Precisely,” Gyvan confirmed.

“Note to self,” Onalla mumbled. “Find more time to discuss politics with you.”

“Anyway, back to the subject of the Barbarians,” Gyvan continued. “Recently, the various smaller tribes have gathered together and formed one massive, nomadic tribe. According to dignitaries I’ve spoken to, one chieftain was able to rise above all the others and now commands them all as High Chieftain. Under him, the tribes have launched several successful military campaigns to regain their land and are now on the verge of pushing out even further and taking over several of the smaller Outer Waste kingdoms.”

“The High Chieftain must be an incredible tactician,” Fidor said, impressed.

“He is, but that’s not the only reason for his success. According to scout reports, the Barbarians are actually taking great care in their raids and battles to kill as few people as possible and take as many prisoners as they can. Towns with no one to defend them have been taken over without a single person dying or house burning down. In fact, the Barbarians actually leave a few soldiers in a town to defend it.”

“Then, how is their army getting bigger?” Fidor asked. “You said they were getting more powerful, which means their army is getting bigger, but how can that be if they leave men behind to defend villages?”

“No one knows. There are theories, but most of them involve black magic in some form or another.”

“Meaning they are all probably full of shit,” Onalla said. “Magic can’t control an entire army and bringing someone back with a shadow stone doesn’t give you control over them.”

Fidor inadvertently clenched his jaw and gripped the shaft of his halberd tighter. He forced himself not to look up at the blade of his weapon.

“Indeed,” Gyvan said, giving Fidor a quick sidelong glance that the guard did not miss, “however, as much as I enjoy talking with the both of you, I believe it will soon be time for me to re-enter the fray of the throne room and it is most certainly past time for you to be heading to bed, your majesty.”

“Very well,” Onalla sighed and opened the door to her room, knowing from past experience that she wouldn’t be able to win if she argued with Gyvan on this, “but I’m going to bathe first. You’re welcome to join me, Fi.”

She winked and slipped into her room, closing the door behind her and leaving a very flustered Fidor with an amused Gyvan laughing at him.

It was several minutes before Fidor could get his face to stop resembling a tomato and several minutes more before Gyvan stopped chuckling about it.

“Don’t you have a meeting to advise?” Fidor huffed.

“I do,” he said before becoming very serious, “but I need to know the truth. What are you hiding?”

“I’ll tell you if you tell me what you’re hiding,” Fidor said with more courage than he was feeling.

“You mean in relation to his majesty being so quick to marry Onalla off?” When Fidor nodded, the ambassador sighed before continuing. “Let us say that the king has perhaps found a way to have a male heir.”

“What!?” Fidor exclaimed. “You mean he is planning on marrying again? It’s only been two years since Onalla’s mother died.”

“Under mysterious circumstances. Believe me, I am as upset as you are about this, but the king has been listening to my advice less and less these past few years.”

Fidor’s grip tightened on his halberd. “That no good, selfish, bastard.”

“Don’t let him hear you say it.”

“Doesn’t matter. Either I’ll be leaving with Onalla once she’s decided on a husband or I’ll be stuck here while she goes off to another country, at which point I might as well be dead anyway.”

Gyvan’s face held such a sad and tired look upon it that he might as well have been Fidor’s father, or a favorite uncle.

“Why do you torture yourself this way, Fi?” the advisor asked quietly. “You could likely have any girl in the village below, yet you do everything you can to get as close to the one person you’ll never be allowed to reach.”

Fidor gave a small shrug.

“I could be her consort, maybe,” he muttered, but he didn’t really believe what he said.

Even if, by some luck, he was allowed to remain Onalla’s guard after she married, and even if they were able to carry out a secret romance behind her future husband’s back, it would be a hollow and paranoid relationship with nothing but heartache for everyone involved. He didn’t want that. He knew Onalla wouldn’t want that. But, what else could he do.

Gyvan must have known what was going on in his head. The older man stood silently as past thoughts and emotions ran their inevitable, well-worn course. Finally, the advisor spoke.

“You promised to tell me what you were hiding. I’m guessing it has to do with that gem in your halberd. It’s not just a fancy decoration.”

Fidor looked up at the compound axe-spear blade at the top of his polearm. Set within the metal between the axe blade at the front and the hook at the back was a deep, dark purple gem about the size of his thumb. The gem almost seemed hollow, as if waiting for something to be put inside its crystalline walls.

“No,” Fidor said simply, looking down and refusing to meet his friend’s eyes.

“It’s a shadow stone?” That phrase seemed like both a question and a statement.

“Yes.”

“How did you manage to obtain one?”

“A wizard gave it to me.”

“For no charge?”

“Yes. He was a very strange wizard, but he assisted me with the binding ritual.”

“In what way was he strange?” Gyvan raised an eyebrow.

Fidor knit his eyebrows as he looked through his memories. “For one, he wore normal clothes instead of robes. He had a very unusual ‘wand’ as well, made out of many of different types of metal. However, the strangest thing was the door he was standing next to. It stood alone, unattached to any sort of wall, yet he would walk through it and disappear, then reappear as he walked back out of wherever he’d gone. Why do you ask?”

“Because normally, I’d tell you never to trust a wizard,” Gyvan said, relaxing a little, but still eying the shadow stone warily. “However, I’ve heard of this particular wizard before. He’s passed through several kingdoms and offered a select few people special items that then later helped them survive some sort of danger. This is the first I’ve heard of him giving a shadow stone though. Did he tell you his name?”

Fidor shook his head. “He only told me to call him ‘The Wayfarer.’ He said that he’d given up his name a long time ago.”

“Fascinating. I wonder if…”

Whatever the advisor was going to say was cut off by the sound of someone running down the hall toward them. Soon, a short, wiry man in royal guard armor emerged into the torchlight, sprinting as hard as he could down the corridor. Despite his hair being hidden by the helmet, Fidor immediately recognized his fellow guard by his mismatched blue and brown eyes and his exotic fist blades, supposedly called katars.

“Spote,” Fidor called out to his approaching friend, a cold chill going down his spine, “what’s wrong?”

“The lords,” the guard began hurriedly as he slowed to a stop in front of Gyvan and Fidor, he was only slightly out of breath, “they’ve killed the king!”

“WHAT?” Gyvan exclaimed, grabbing Spote by the shoulders and looking him straight in the eyes with panicked intensity.

“I don’t know who started it,” Spote explained. “The feast was proceeding just fine until one of the royals stood up and stabbed a dinner knife straight into his majesty’s heart. Leary and Bod tried to grab him, but the doors burst open and the forces of all the lords began to flood into the throne room. Vorer sent me to alert you so you can get the princess to safety.”

“Good man,” Gyvan said, releasing him and turning to Fidor who already had his hand on the door handle. “Get Onalla to the tunnels.”

“What are you going to do?” Fidor asked.

A grave look passed over the advisor’s face. “I’m going to see how long I can stall them. If I am lucky, I’ll be able to send them down the wrong hallway.”

“But they’ll kill you.”

“Don’t worry.” Gyvan smirked and winked. “Everyone expects the advisor to betray the royal family. Besides, I’m craftier than you think. Now go.”

With that, Gyvan took off down the hall, his robes billowing out behind him. Fidor and Spote turned to each other. Spote spoke first.

“I’ll stay here, Fidor.”

“You can come with us.”

“Only as far as you can. I’ll be more useful out here. I can buy you two some time.”

Fidor put his hand on his comrade’s shoulder. “Thank you, Spote. It was an honor to have served with you.”

Spote returned the gesture. “Likewise, Fi. Now go, I have treacherous pigs to corral.”

The two released each other and Fidor barged through Onalla’s door. It occurred to him that the princess might actually be in the bath right now. Fortunately—or perhaps not—he found Onalla dressed in her “boy clothes” and pulling on her forest boots. She looked up as the door banged against the stone walls and their eyes met. Her eyes were hard and knowing.

“You were listening?” Fidor asked, a little rhetorically.

“Yes,” she said, standing, her voice more subdued than normal.

Painfully nostalgic memories flashed through Fidor’s memory as he looked at her. The baggy green shirt tied around her waist with a simple leather belt, brown cotton pants, brown leather boots, and forester’s cap with a feather in the top hiding her hair and casting a shadow across her face reminded him of the days they’d spent exploring the woods surrounding the village. He shook himself from his reverie, closed and bolted the door, and heaved as much furniture in front of it as he could quickly drag in place.

Turning to face his friend again, he found her in the same spot she’d been when he’d entered, staring at the stone floor. He walked over and took one of her hands. They were soft, but he could still feel some of the old calluses on her fingers. She looked up and met his eyes again.

“Come on,” he said quietly.

She took a deep breath, let it out, and nodded, her eyes firm with resolve.

He led her to the washroom and reluctantly let go of her hand. He crouched and began feeling around the edge of the large ivory bathtub built into the floor. Onalla crouched next to him and began searching too, knowing what he was looking for.

They quickly found the loose tile and pulled it out. Fitting their fingers into the space, they heaved up and lifted the entire bathtub, revealing a spiral staircase leading deep into the darkness under the castle. Fidor hurriedly pulled out a torch set in sconce built into the walls of the stairwell and lit it with his flint stones. The two descended, Fidor leading the way with the torch and Onalla carefully closing the secret door behind them with a pull rope.

They half ran deeper and deeper into the depths of the castle, lit only by the wavering, angry light of the torch. Fidor felt Onalla grab hold of his hand again as they continued downward. If it was possible for a heart to lift and sink at the same time, his did.

Eventually, they reached the end of the stairs and encountered a heavy stone door. It took both of them pushing as hard as they could to open it. Fidor never let go of his princess’s hand and she never let go of his.

The door opened into the sewers beneath the castle. Filthy wastewater sluggishly flowed through the canals set into the middle of the floor on a course that would lead out into the moat. The smell of a hundred meals thoroughly digested wafted from the putrid river and invaded Fidor and Onalla’s nostrils with a stench that nearly brought tears to their eyes. The minute they’d reclosed the door, the princess covered the lower half of her face with a loose cloth. Fidor was forced to use his arm for filtration. They stuck as close to the walls as they could. As if in opposition to the dark, the gloom, and the stench of the sewers, the torch burned brighter and kept whatever foul creatures were down there a safe distance away.

The two pressed on, sometimes having to leap over a tributary of trash leading into the main river from a side tunnel. At a specific point, they turned off the main path and set off down a different path of filth. Five more times they turned left or right and trudged down another length of the labyrinth.

Finally, they reached a wall where two of the sewer lines met at a T-section and joined to become one larger branch of the river. At the head of the T-section were several large racks of weapons and two torch sconces, one of which was empty.

Placing his torch into the empty sconce, Fidor pulled down on the hidden lever. The section of wall set between the sconces let out a hiss of escaping air and swung into a tunnel lit by the ethereal glow of hundreds of luminescent crystals.

“Come on, Fi,” Onalla said, dashing forward into the tunnel.

Fidor let his hand relax and slip out of Onalla’s grasp before she could drag him into the cave-like hallway. His stomach sank with guilt as his princess—queen now—glanced back in confusion. He couldn’t meet her eyes.

“Fi?” she asked, worry evident in her voice.

“I’m sorry, Onalla,” he said. “I can go no further.”

“Of course you can,” she said, stepping back into the sewer and grabbing his hand. “Come on!”

She pulled him forward and he let her, knowing what would happen. The minute his hand came to the threshold it met with an invisible wall and slipped out of Onalla’s grasp as she tried to continue her movement.

She halted the second his hand left hers and turned back. She looked at him, looked at the threshold, looked at the gems set into the walls of the tunnel, and finally looked back at him with a mix of fear and rage on her face.

“No!” she yelled, dashing back to Fidor, wrapping her arms around his torso, and dragging him toward the tunnel.

As with his hand, Fidor found himself pulled into the wall of invisible force as Onalla tried desperately to pull him into the rough rock hall beyond the sewer walls. He let himself go limp as Onalla continued to struggle against the magical shield. Onalla cursed and yelled in anguish as she fought as hard as she could to take her friend where he could not follow.

Eventually, Onalla gave up and the two of them staggered back into the sewers. Fidor returned his queen’s embrace as she clung to him in desperation and cried heavy tears into his armored chest. Water leaked from his eyes as he buried his face into her hair and let its fragrance transport him—however briefly—to days long passed. They stayed in each other’s arms for what seemed an eternity.

“Blood magic,” he finally croaked out in explanation. “Only someone with royal blood in their veins can enter that tunnel.”

She pulled away from his chest and looked up at his face. This time he met her eyes—her beautiful, crystalline whirlpools—and didn’t look away. Her face had grown red and puffy with tears and mucus ran from her nose. Yet these details barely registered in Fidor’s mind.

“There must be another tunnel,” she choked out, barely holding back her sobs. “There has to be another way to escape. Maybe we can jump into the moat and swim to safety.”

Fidor shook his head. “You know as well as I do, that there are no other routes. Even if the lords have not yet found the trap door, there would be dozens of soldiers surrounding the castle, including the moat. This is your only option.”

“No! I refuse…”

“Lala,” he snapped, using the nickname she’d made for herself as a child, “I’m not happy with this either, but I would rather die for you than with you.” He shoved his halberd into her hands. “You heard me talking about the shadow gem in this. It will keep you safe and give me a small chance at coming back to you. If you can, find the Wayfarer. If you can’t, follow the gem. I’ll keep you safe through it.”

“But…”

Fidor cut her off by pulling her closer and bringing his lips to hers. His brain exploded in pure joy and his heart felt like it would burst from beating so fast. Not even the smell of sewage could ruin the moment.

Before he could let euphoria distract him any longer, Fidor broke off the kiss and shoved Onalla into the tunnel, halberd still in her hands. She stumbled and fell on her back. He reached up and pulled the hidden lever one last time.

“Goodbye, Lala,” he said as the door to the tunnel swung closed.

“NOOOOO,” she screamed, leaping forward to stop the portal, but was too late. The stone wall closed with a resounding thud.

Fidor pulled the lit torch out of its sconce and used it to ignite the other one before tossing it into the river of filth, extinguishing it, and drowning it in sewage. One last, muffled scream of unbridled rage and despair echoed through the wall and into the sewers.

He forced himself to ignore the sound and picked a halberd and a crossbow off the closest weapons rack. Fidor positioned himself in front of the hidden door and waited. Onalla was smart. He knew she’d be far, far down the tunnel before the lords could find a way through.

At least an hour later, Fidor heard the sounds of hundreds of men charging up the tunnel in front of him. He readied all the crossbows.

Soon, the first line of men appeared. They were armored with leather from head to foot and carried a range of weapons, everything from swords to hammers. When they saw him, they charged, though they stayed as far from the sewage in the middle as their lines would allow.

Fidor hefted the first crossbow and fired.

One man fell, a steel bolt sticking out from his chest. A second man collapsed, grasping his knee, as Fidor grabbed and fired another crossbow.

Ten more men fell to crossbow bolts, but no sooner had their bodies hit the scummy floor then another line of men, this time armed with shields, trampled over their corpses. Behind the second line was a third, and behind that a fourth, and behind them so many warriors that Fidor dared not even count, lest he lose his courage.

Hefting his halberd, Fidor charged to meet these warriors.

The men with shields formed a wall and prepared their short swords in a well-practiced formation. Several lines behind them assumed similar tactical stances.

Fidor stopped thinking and let his training take control.

As the tip of the halberd came in reach of the front line, he crouched, pulled back the polearm, and swung it at their legs.

The front line of men toppled over each other, screaming in pain as the razor sharp axe-spear blade ripped through their shins.

The next line of warriors paid no attention to their fallen comrades’ bodies as they advanced more carefully and crouched lower than those they now stepped over.

Using the advantage of his weapon’s reach, Fidor stabbed powerfully into the first of his crouching foes’ back. The man had no time to stand up and adjust his shield before the blade pierced his leather armor.

Twisting forcefully, Fidor tore his blade from the first man’s back and used the force of the release to send the back hook of the halberd—usually used for dismounted cavalry—into the face of the man next to the now more than paraplegic soldier.

As one man crumpled to the ground, the other let loose a garbled scream as his sinus cavity collapsed and one of his eyes found itself cut in half. The screaming man dropped his weapons and tumbled back ward into his comrades as he groped pitifully at what remained of his face. Caught unprepared, several soldiers tripped and fell into a disjointed pile of leather armor and crude steel weaponry.

The rest of the army backed away to avoid getting caught in the tangle of limbs and moved to encircle the guard that was making a significant dent in their forces.

Fidor seized this opportunity, hefted his halberd, and fell upon the tangled mess of men with a flurry of powerful downward hacks. If any of the enemies surrounding him attempted to strike him down, he would quickly slice off their heads or stab them in the gut before turning back to the reddening mass on the floor.

Soon the floor about the guard’s feet was filled with severed limbs and corpses of men that could barely be distinguished as such. The cracks in the stones of the floor ran red with tributaries of blood that languidly spilled into the sewer canal, turning it to a sickening crimson-brown sludge.

What remained of the leather clad army cowered fearfully at a safe distance from the gore splattered ground and guard. Fidor took this lull in the fight to wipe the blood of his fallen enemies from his face. He pointedly refused to look at what he’d done. He couldn’t afford to be sick now. He had to stay strong.

The clatter of plate armor echoed through the strangely silent sewers. Fidor turned to face the new foes.

Coming up through the tunnels was a line of heavily armored knights, each with a sigil emblazoned upon their armor or surcoats. Though they weren’t mounted, their expressionless metal helmets and faceplates were enough to send a shiver down Fidor’s back. In total, he counted at least twenty knights. Even one would have had more than a fair chance at demolishing him.

“Fools,” the lead knight spat, voice echoing from within his remarkably simple helmet. The white tunic over his plate armor displayed an intricately stitched phoenix spreading its wings in flight. “You cannot handle one measly royal guard? Those filthy northern pirates were able to eliminate five before they died like miserable dogs.”

“What happened to the rest of my men?” Fidor growled, standing tall and proud, but grip tightened so hard the shaft of his halberd was in danger of snapping.

“They fell to the Faceless Ones like straw to fire. Lucky for you, we ordered those assassins to stay behind and clean up any stragglers. We expected a bigger force to be down here, but I guess your head will give us honor enough to compensate.”

Fidor kept his rage in check. As much as he would have liked to run his halberd through the knight’s chest right then and there, doing so would only get him killed quicker. He had to buy Onalla as much time as possible.

The talkative knight stepped forward, slung his kite shield from his shoulder to his left arm, and drew his gleaming longsword from its scabbard. Fidor took up a ready stance, carefully watching his foe and waiting for him to strike.

The phoenix knight charged and attempted to knock Fidor’s halberd aside with his shield.

Fidor quickly pulled back his weapon and let the shield swish through empty air before stepping forward and shoving the spear part of his blade into the knight’s visor.

The plate armor crumpled to the floor as the body inside lost its will to hold up the heavy metal. Blood seeped through the cracks in the helmet as the blade was pulled out and the clean white tunic smudged as it met the ground.

There was half a second of stunned silence before the other nineteen knights charged forward to avenge their fallen brother-in-arms. Some drew swords and slung on shields while others hefted powerful lances or flanged maces.

Fidor panicked at the sight of so many gleaming bodies rushing toward him and attempted to block the lead knight’s first strike with the shaft of his polearm. Unfortunately, the weapon he attempted to block was a heavy metal mace that smashed through the wooden haft of his halberd without even slowing.

Recovering quickly, Fidor shoved the bladeless half of his broken weapon into his visor. The splintered wood pierced the knight’s corneas and dug itself deep into his brain.

With a swift kick, Fidor sent the falling body into one of its former comrades. The two towering metal figures crashed to the floor with a force that nearly cracked the stones.

The remaining knights circled the guard and one attempted to stab him in the back with a lance.

Fidor heard the knight’s charge—metal boots on a stone floor being less than sneaky—and turned, using what remained of his halberd to knock the spear aside. Stepping forward, he chopped the axe part of his blade into the man’s neck.

Letting the man fall with half a halberd protruding from his neck, Fidor scooped up his lance and spun it to block the strikes of two advancing knights wielding two-handed greatswords with surprising speed.

The three traded many blows before the young guard could fell the first one. By that time, more of the surrounding knights had stepped forward to join the combat.

Fidor first became aware of this when he back-stepped to avoid a greatsword swing and found the head of a mace slamming painfully into the armor on his back, sending him staggering forward. He recovered just in time to turn the stagger into a charge that sent his opponent with the greatsword toppling to the floor from loss of balance.

Turning to face the knight with the mace, Fidor brought up his new lance to shove it into the gap between the helmet and the chest plate just as the knight was preparing another swing. As the point pierced the man’s jaw, two more came at the guard from either side.

Fidor lost nearly all comprehension of what happened next in the battle. He could only deliriously focus on the rush of colors and combat.

He discerned the sharp pain of spears grazing his legs and arms, opening gashes large and small. He felt the spray of blood on his face and the piercing of skin each time he slew another knight. The sound and mixed pain of stabbing and crushing of bone made it to his brain as a mace found its way to his ribs.

The fog of war did not leave his head until at last, Fidor found himself kneeling on the floor, using half of a spear to remain upright. His body was in utter agony. Cuts leaked blood, bruises riddled his body black, and bones smashed and broken into all the wrong angles disfigured his body into an utter mess. Yet he was alive and all of his foes were dead.

All but one.

One last knight, staggered toward him, not nearly as wounded, but almost as close to death. The surcoat over his plate mail was redder than scarlet from all the blood it had been drenched in. His right hand held a shattered longsword and the remains of a kite shield hung uselessly from his broken left arm.

Fidor tried to get up and face the knight on his feet, but he could not rise, no matter how he struggled. The knight drew closer and closer. Fidor could almost see the whites of his crazed eyes behind the visor.

Just as the armored warrior was upon him, Fidor hefted the splintered spear and stabbed it as hard as he could into the knight’s belly. Miraculously, the chainmail splintered the end of the spear further and sharpened it to the point where the shaft slipped through the rings in the armor and into the man’s stomach.

Without even strength enough to scream, the knight collapsed to his knees as Fidor stared around at the crimson pool about him in surprise.

He had survived. Perhaps he could escape. He now had the slimmest of chances to find Onalla and reunite with her. He would have to crawl the entire way, but he had a chance. Until the muscles in the front of his neck were severed and ungodly pain flared in his throat and lungs.

Blood burst from the gash at the front of his throat and Fidor clawed desperately at his neck, trying in vain to close the wound that was simultaneously suffocating and bleeding him to death. Through the panic, he saw the knight’s broken sword, dripping blood and skin from the tip. He didn’t have to think hard to figure out what happened.

Fidor’s lungs desperately expanded and deflated in futile attempts to fill themselves with air. Instead, blood was dragged in, quickly filling the space. He collapsed flat on the ground, the feelings of drowning and breathing directly through his windpipe too much for him to comprehend.

Lying on his side, Fidor watched his blood mix with all the rest on the floor. He let his hands fall, resigned now to his fate as the darkness closed in.

Forcing himself not to focus on the pain, the royal guard dragged an image out of his mind and into his eyes. Onalla, his princess, his queen, his love, was holding his hand and leading him into the greenest forest he’d ever seen. Her face shone clearly as the darkness closed around his vision and his limbs went numb and limp.

 

Far away, down a hall lit by riches, an amethyst jewel set into the top of a halberd began to glow with inner light. A lone figure, a woman in man’s clothes, sobbed as she beheld the shine. Tears rolled down her face as she stumbled on. Led by the light of the man she loved.

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