Lyorta: The Saga Of Retribution: Chapter 5: A Brother’s Loyalty


868 RA “2nd Season, 5th Moon, 1st Week, 4th Day”
Taer, The Azurian Capitol Of Marion, Dusk

Wolgraft watches the arrival precession of his brother from the balcony of the Reed Arms Tavern. The streets of Belcross are alive with good cheer and celebration raining with flowers and confetti.  “He loves this,” Wolgraft jokes.  His sister, Ariest cheers dangling over the balcony rail, waving a chapel lace handkerchief.  Wolgraft shrugs glancing over at Mayfare, his sister’s maid who shyly stood behind the two.  The crowd parts as Guildred rides leading his soldiers on horseback holding high the banner of the revolution; the Azurian mainland flag, a royal blue flag with a sideways cross intersecting on the left side enclosed in a loris reed circlet.

“He is safe,” Ariest’s arms wrapped around his bicep.

Wolgraft nods his head. “Of course, I would expect nothing less.” Raising his hand, he waves to Guildred whose eyes spot the three standing on the balcony.  He nods and continues his glad-handing as people drop flowers at his horse’s feet.  “It is amazing that even though we are rebels, they seem to love us.”

“You are liberators, not rebels.  Don’t you ever listen to what people say?” Mayfare adds.

Wolgraft nods his head.  “It is just hard to believe,” Wolgraft asserts over the jubilation.  “I mean, think about it, we attacked as invaders a few years ago.  We conquered them… we did this.  Then when we rebel against the crown, we are heroes?  I don’t understand the logic behind it.”

Ariest’s girlish chuckle rings in Wolgraft’s ears. “That is because you over-think things sometimes.  You need to look at it through their eyes.  You got rid of all the raiders and restored law to the land.  Under the rule of the crown, they took and supplied nothing to the people.  Even I can understand that Wolgraft.”

“I suppose you are right.”

Mayfare places her hand on Ariest’s back before chirping “So does that mean he captured Ulfates?”

“I think so.  I don’t think Guildred would have come back if he had failed.  His pride wouldn’t let him.” Ariest replies.

A smile crept over Wolgraft’s face as the images of homes large pastures came to mind. “Yeah, one step closer to home,” Wolgraft’s heart skips as Ariest lets out a startling scream.  “What!?”

“Look what he has brought back!” Ariest shouts pointing towards the sea of cheering people.

Mayfare’s face falls.  “I have seen those before in Lasandra’s book of drawings.”

Wolgraft looks away from the two girls gazing over the crowd.  His eyes are drawn toward two massive hauls. “What is that?” Wolgraft blurts stroking his chin.  The crowd does not seem to notice them but are too overjoyed to hear of the safe return. The armored hulks are tied up, several horses hauling each one. “What are those monsters?”

~

“Village Guards,” Lasandra raves to Wolgraft who is standing over the large machines. “To think it is alive but just sleeping, kind of scares me, to be honest.” She runs her fingertips along the brown carapace of the Village Guard. “I don’t like working on machines of this nature.”

“So what are you doing with these things anyway?” Wolgraft’s eyes are wide with amazement.  “It’s armor looks stronger than stone.”

Lasandra nods her head “It is, a lot stronger.  You won’t see these things being penetrated.  Village Guards are made for war, so, they have to be stronger than stone.  A good hit from a Vistis cannon will take one down.”  Wolgraft raises an eyebrow shivering inside at the thought of challenging one of these monsters on the field.  Guildred had not talked for days since he returned from Ulfates.  The rumors Wolgraft heard from the other soldiers suggest he got his injuries from defeating a Village Guard.

~

Lasandra’s voice snaps Wolgraft back from his daydream saying “Guildred wants me to make these two battle ready. A full reprogramming would take time without a codex. So I will remove its systems, let it act on its nature. Risky but orders are orders. The problem is I got to cut out the system and if the blood thaws I will have one upset Village Guard, now won’t I?” Lasandra chuckles looking up at the massive body with her blue eyes.

Wolgraft nods his head.  As what Lasandra had just unveiled to him sunk in his eyes grew wide. “So, they would… just go berserk?”  he shouts at her.

Lasandra nods nervously. “Yeah, that is the goal.  Sorta, I mean they would not be aggressive without reason, but generally, it does not take much to get them upset.”

Wolgraft shakes his head. “That is crazy and reckless.”

“So you think I am crazy, Wol? She is following my orders.” Guildred says at the stairs walking down into the base floor of the barn. “Normally Village Guards are docile until they are triggered to go after a threat. They will serve as good workers, plowing the fields with village guards will make it easy to plant fresh crops.” This strikes Wolgraft. Crops, what is this about crops they were going home. Weren’t they?  Not wanting to question his brother he stares at him.

“Lasandra, how is my armor?” Guildred asks in a firm tone.

Lasandra shakes her head. “I can’t work with it. It’s all torn to hell. It will take me some time to just get the proper materials for it, let alone repair the internal parts. You busted several ligaments in the shoulder. The muscle tissue got torn to ribbons. I might fix it, but it will take a lot of work.”

Guildred’s expression is blank for a moment. “O’,” he says in a dull monotone voice. “Well, that is a pity.”

“Talmian alicids are scarce these…”

Guildred cuts Lasandra off with a raised hand. “You need not lecture me.  I understand.”

He turns away from the two heading back up the stairs. Wolgraft calls out “Wait. How is your shoulder doing?”

Guildred pauses for a moment before he continues back up the stairs.  His shadow stops at the top of the stairs before he calls down. “Soldat is not back yet. Let’s get out of here before the locals become suspicious.”

~

Ariest hears the front door open. She runs to the entrance, a broad smile covering her face.  Guildred and Wolgraft are standing at the end of the hall.  “Welcome home.” she chirps, but Guildred walks past her with his head bowed and face covered with an expression of nothingness. She turns to Wolgraft who looks at her with a feeling that said it all. Ariest stifles her smile. In the dining room, Mayfare is placing a meal of angels on horseback. The oysters are fresh from the harbor filling the room with the suggestive scent of the sea. It mixed in the air with the smell of a freshly baked yeast bread that Mayfare had just set on the table.

When Guildred entered the dining room, Mayfare says “Good evening Lord Guildred,” bowing as Guildred walks past her to the table sitting at the head as always.  Without saying a word, it was as if he drew everyone’s attention with his presence alone. The four sat at the table, silently eating, Guildred ate in as official a fashion as ever while, the others ate in a much more sluggish, startled, reserved manner. Wolgraft wanted to compliment Mayfare on her cooking but held his tongue to maintain the silence. Guildred’s face was not stern, but everyone knew he was just about to lose it, it is the look that caused men to skip a heartbeat. His hands shook jittering, pain surging through him with each bite.

“This is delicious, Mayfare, Ariest,” and with that small statement, he nods his head to Mayfare then to Ariest. Mayfare lets a half smile creep over her face. Though the rest abstain from comment. The meal continued and finished as it started, in utter silence. Mayfare raises from her chair to clear the dishes when Guildred raises his hand. “Wolgraft help your sister clear the table.” Ariest looks and stood up. Mayfare continued reaching for a plate. “Mayfare, let Wol and Ari handle that, come up to the roof with me,” Guildred says before leaving the room.

She looks over to Wolgraft her eye pleading to know what was happening.  Wolgraft looks back mouthing the words “I don’t know.”

~

Mayfare removes her shoes before climbing out the third story window onto the arched roofs wooden shingles.  Her foot slips as she places it on the mossy shingles. Guildred lays his back against the shingled pressing his feet on the fall bars to the edge of the roof. He glances over at her holding his hand out. “It’s all right. I won’t let you fall.” he kicks the metal rattling the bar. “See it’s sturdy. Come sit with me.” Mayfare carefully walks across the shingles her hand gripping the rail. Her foot slips on the soft surface before she grabs back ahold of the track regaining her footing. Guildred grasps her side helping her stabilize herself as she sits.

“Why are we on the roof?” Mayfare asks.

A small smile crept over Guildred’s face. “It’s serene and private, everything is so clear.  You can even see the ripple of the tides above if you look close enough.”  Mayfare gazes up to see the moons hanging in the open air past the oceans that drift above along with the shining orb whose glow was dying. “It’s a beautiful place here. Don’t you think so?”

As much as the sky drew her attention, it was the streets below that Mayfare found far more unusual.  People move about doing little tasks that seem of no importance to anyone but themselves.  Mayfare notes a cart driver riding on horseback carrying various goods throughout the streets, several children playing and a vendor who cried out to the crowds. “It is.” she agreed her voice soft and tender.

Guildred nods. “You have always been good to us Mayfare. I remember when you were just a little girl. Shame you were not born a noble.”

Mayfare feels a lump form in her throat,  her mind uneasy with a sudden burst of questions.  What he could he mean being the most prominent. So instead she found it best to placate as she did in these tense situations. “Thank you, sir.”

“Still. Sir?” Guildred chuckles. “I should expect that from you. I wanted to talk to you in private because, well, I know Ariest would be upset with me for asking you this.”  A look of concern graces Mayfare’s face.  Guildred, however, gave no tells what he would say.  His handsome features appear more distinguished in the dying evening light.  His eyes almost seem to glow. “You know times will get rough for us.” She nods in agreement. “You are my slave servant, and I think you have completed your service to our family.”

Mayfare’s heart skips a beat a sense of dread coming over her.  Her fears grew out of the blackness of her mind strangling her.  “Don’t you dare Guildred!” she screams inside.

Her eyes growing wide as he continued  “You have repaid your debt more than once. I am releasing you from your burden, and you can leave if you wanted to.” Guildred said.

Silence crosses for what seems like an eternity,  the words violating the open spaces in Mayfare’s mind. “But I…” she moans, her eyes tearing up.  The words themselves as affectionate as Guildred attempted to make them, found themselves to be arrows in her heart.  She had served Lady Ariest since she was a child.  She would not leave.  She couldn’t go now, not when she is needed most.

Guildred continues “I am offering you a chance at a better life. The battle is far from over. We have just begun, and I fear things are about to change. We have been fighting new soldiers, retainers. That is the truth of the matter. It won’t be long until Azure sends real soldiers maybe even from the mainland and I have a feeling they are sending them soon.  Everyone associated with us will be labeled traitors. I don’t want to see that happen to you.” Guildred then draws a pouch from his side. “Here is fifty pieces of gold. It could afford you a good plot of land and the price of traveling wherever you wanted. You could even purchase yourself a small workforce to farm for you.”

“No,” she whispers.

Guildred turns to look at her. “Things will get ugly. If I could, I would have you take sister with you, but the empire would find her and you. You’re not an Ashnod; you could deny association with us because of you being a slave.”

“No, I want to stay,” Mayfare says to Guildred.

Guildred takes a deep breath. “This is your last chance to get yourself out of this mess Mayfare. Think about what you are doing.”

Tears rain from Mayfare’s cheeks.  “I won’t go if I have to leave you all behind. You are my only family.”

Guildred smirks a little “They may kill you. You know right. They might not but they may kill all of us, and you would be left with nothing.”

Mayfare pauses.  Guildred said nothing new, these thoughts all have already crossed her mind a hundred times before.  She almost left before it all started.  Even still, she knew she would regret it for the rest of her life.  Especially if something happened to Ariest, who she loved with all her heart. “I know. That is why I don’t want to leave. I can’t do much and Ariest can’t either, but she needs someone to look after her being so young.”

Guildred drums his fingers on the wood. “Well, that is the issue. Protecting the both of you means you will be a burden to us if things don’t go right.” Guildred looks at her sternly. “Have you considered that?”

“I understand but, I can be useful.” Mayfare pleads wiping tears from her eyes.

Wrapping his arms around Mayfare, Guildred gives her a half hug. “I know.” He then sits up getting to his feet. “I am glad you will stay. Make sure I don’t regret this.” The clomping of hooves directs Mayfare’s gaze to the city street. A single rider is swiftly running towards them.  Guildred drops the pouch of gold coins next to Mayfare’s dainty foot. “Last chance,” Guildred says before climbing back into the house leaving Mayfare on the rooftop alone.  She watches the rider stop in front of the bar.  Mayfare picks up the pouch of coins not taking her eyes off the rider.  Lifting a single gold out of the pouch she looks it over as it lays flat on her palm.  She breathes in slowly, then lets it go placing the coin back inside with a metallic “clink.”

~

Two cloth blades strike each other back and forth faster than Wolgraft could see. Sweat pours off his brow.  Outside behind the tavern, Wolgraft and Guildred traded blows with each other. Guildred’s posture looked perfect and from what Wolgraft could tell is without a sign of fatigue, while his own felt much the opposite. “Remember brother; you must be faster than a blink.” Guildred stabs through Wolgraft’s strikes reaching just before his face. “Each attack, a single step, and you are dead.” Wolgraft is forced to step back the cloth tip of his brother’s sword being just before his nose. When he does, Guildred lunges, striking at an incredible speed. It felt as though for every one strike Wolgraft guards, Guildred had already hit his blade four to five times knocking it every which way. “You are not focusing! Your grip is too firm, and you’re too slow.”

“Damn it!” Wolgraft yells as he tries his best to keep up.  He grits his teeth tightly letting out a growl as he lunges at Guildred who sidesteps him.

“You’re opponent won’t give you the mercy of back and forths like this.” Guildred slams his sword right between Wolgraft’s eyes knocking him backward.  A splash of darkness fills his vision while pain surged through his face. “They will just kill you like this.” When Wolgraft’s vision cleared up, he could see Guildred stood at ease looking at him.

With tears in his eyes, blood flowing out of his nostrils Wolgraft shouts “What the hell was that?” A look of shock masking his face.

Guildred firms his eyes “You will get yourself killed with sloppy work like that.” Wolgraft snorts wiping the blood off his hand onto his pants. He grits his teeth pointing his sword back at Guildred. “That is the spirit. Come get me.”

Wolgraft charges at Guildred with both hands on the grip of his blade. He swings his sword as fast as he can, but Guildred catches it with his sword.  Wolgraft can feel his grip loosen as a twist from Guildred knocks the sword from his hands.  He sees his opening.  Guildred would never expect him to grab his blade. Wolgraft latches onto the thick of Guildred’s sword, wrenching the cloth blade from Guildred’s arms. However, what Wolgraft did not see is Guildred’s free hand crashing into his face knocking him off his feet. The blow was hard, blacking Wolgraft out. When he woke up, he is looking up at his brother kneeling over him. “You are done training today.”

“Why are you so hard on me?” Wolgraft asks in a small voice, his mind racing.  His brother would allow him some liberties in combat.  After all, he was not as experienced as his expert swordsman of a brother.  It dawns on him as he looks into Guildred’s downturn face. “What did that messenger have to say?”

“Soldat is not back, and his scouts have not returned. No word from him at all. I am thinking his group was intercepted. If that happens, we will lose everything. There is no returning home brother. I am not even sure if everything goes right that there is a way home.  It is time I stopped treating you like a child and ensure you will handle yourself on the field.”

Wolgraft felt anger boil inside of him.  “I have led my troop already through several battles.  I can handle myself in battle just fine.”

Guildred rolls his eyes.  “You can?  Have you ever considered you have been fighting bandits and hired soldiers?  They are not skilled warriors, a band of Azurian soldiers is enough to handle such rabble.  As time goes on, however, we will fight against Azurian knights and lords who are far more skilled than you are, brother.”

“What are you saying?” Wolgraft growls. “Did you lose hope in the cause?  Do you think we are incapable of going further?”

“It’s not like that.  I would not be training you if I thought it was a futile effort and what cause? We are fighting to go home. What home is left for us?” Guildred lifts his brother to his feet. “We are traitors, Wolgraft, deserters, the only leverage we have is our numbers and these cities.  Both of which are dwindling like grains of sand through our fingers. We are about to hold an entire kingdom hostage, to get back home. Do you think we get out of this alive?”

Silence takes over the two for a short while before Wolgraft weakly starts “What choice did we have? Go east and die fighting the Dalmaskan’s on some no named island.” He spits onto the ground before continuing. “Grandor that bastard. He lied to all of us. We need to get word to the Imperator.”

“Any word to the Imperator goes through Grandor. Unless we can get our hands on an airship. Which I don’t suppose we have that ability. If we send someone, they will be viewed as a traitor.” Guildred sighs looking a fair bit distressed, Wolgraft thought to himself. “I suppose Grandor would want all this to end too. But we overplayed our hand. I did not expect everyone to revolt. When that happened, Grandor could not allow that. So we are locked in this war that no one wants.”

Wolgraft feels a tightness come over his chest. “Is it as simple as that?”

“I am afraid so.” Guildred scuffs the ground with his foot. “This may all be in vain. If we can’t negotiate a release and Grandor decides it’s all out war than none of us will ever see home. Though I am hoping he won’t want to stain on his legacy.”

“This is a dangerous game,” Wolgraft says under his breath looking out the alleyway.

“It is. There is only one way out of this.” Just then the clomping of hooves breaks the two’s conversation. The brothers turn their heads up to see a messenger riding through the fields. He arrives upright and gallants, delivering a word. “My lord, Soldat has returned and is waiting at Ziekden. He has news.”

~

Wolgraft sits at a table dressed in a fancy Azurian uniform looking over a large map sprawled across the table. Several well-placed pins stuck from various locations on the map.  Wolgraft felt warm inside as he looks at the battle plans he devised.  Guildred paces around the table with his hand playing with his facial hair.  He glances now and then at the tactical plan set out.  An older man with a shaved head sits across from Wolgraft, his feet up on the table as he picks his teeth with a knife. Their armor adorned with gold and silver designs of griffons covered by worn gold trimmed Azurian blue cloak. All this, however, did not shine new but was tarnished with dirt and grit.

The older man is one of Guildred’s trusted advisors.  This much Wolgraft knew, but, Wolgraft did not enjoy the position Guildred had given to him.  Soldat is a man without a name, and that alone was enough to have the Ashnod in Wolgraft upset.  Two men in half sets of armor stood looking out two windows inside the old windmill farmhouse. Guildred used his fingers to brush his golden hair back in a more formal style. “So if this is our best option, it is what we have to do.  What is the status of the invasion armies, Wolgraft?” Guildred asks.

“They are about ready to invade Verst. We are only awaiting your orders, my lord,” Wolgraft says his eyes locked onto the map.  He realizes this meeting is merely theater, even with Wolgraft’s best tactics.  Guildred had been lying to everyone about the operations, knowing full well if they stopped it is death for everyone and survival meant never staying.

Guildred smiles while he glances at the tiny hand-carved wooden pieces representing enemy camps on the map. He points to the battle plans. “Beautiful isn’t it. Even if they had the support they needed after taking Verst, we could stop all trade coming from the south.” Wolgraft knew Guildred is operating by a margin so thin that it is bordering insanity.  It was a battle they could not win but could not afford to avoid.

Soldat points to Elitus on the map. “They will bulk their forces in the Amura keep. From this stage, it will become impossible to move north. Without the backing of the Freeholds, we will be at a stalemate.”  Apparently, Soldat was coming to the same conclusion he was, Wolgraft thought to himself.

“Lord Rasario refused to rally for us and so didn’t the Lords of the Brave clans. Without the backing of either of them, we won’t be able to get any of the freelanders to join us. We are not a respected clan nor are we a kingdom. We are refugees of war at this point. We have nothing to offer the Freeholds. That and no one wants to upset the Azure empire by joining in. We hold our positions. That is the only choice we have.” Guildred says before looking over at his brother.

Soldat looks down at the map trying to make heads or tales of their next move.  “You are an Ashnod, Guildred, does that not count for anything?”

“Not in Marion.  The name Guildred means more to them, and even that garnered none support.” Wolgraft looks up from the map to inspect Guildred’s sudden see Guildred’s eyes locked onto him.  He has a look of concern before he says  “Wolgraft you are silent.”

Wolgraft is struck with an idea or rather a realization.  A smile softly covers his face as an understanding of what Guildred had suggested earlier came to him.  The village guards tilling the land, holding the kingdoms hostage; the plan was never to return home.  There was no home to go back to because of Grandor.  It was to make a new home here, away from the reach of the Azurian kingdoms.  However, he was bound by duty never to say such a thing.  It would have to come from someone close to him.  That person Guildred needs is himself. “We will never go home. This is our kingdom.” Wolgraft says pointing at the triangle of cities soon to be under their control. “Why not stay here? We can make ourselves a nation.” He pauses for a moment to look at Guildred whose eyes are unwavering.  Wolgraft took this as a sign he is saying the right things. “We could convince the freeholds to join us if we allied with them after forming a sovereign country. They are tired of the Azurians. Golgotha would join us. They would rebel.”

“And we would see half of our army desert. The others would give up and go east to fight Dalmaska.”  Immediately the understanding Wolgraft felt like he had of his brother’s plan is shattered in an instant.  He looks up from the map and fears that Guildred has only gone mad under stress.  “The only choice we have left is to barter holding these cities hostage and cut trade to the north. Elitus will port east, and we won’t be able to take Elitus with the provisions we have now. Like it or not this is the end of our revolt and the beginning of a long, drawn-out war of attrition. We don’t have Verst yet, though… my armies are ready and how about your armies Soldat?”

Soldat smiles smugly, Wolgraft imagined a commoner like him quiet enjoyed leading soldiers around. “They are. We have drafted several new bands. Locals who wish to squire under us in return for their service. We have chosen the fittest and best for this task. We almost grew our armies by a quarter.”

“My troops are ready too. I ah, lost several of them on the way over here. A small band of wildlings raided our camp at night. The lookouts could not light fires in time to warn our best.  We still have enough to press on. I meant to tell you upon your return from Ulfates, but I could not.”

Guildred nods giving a stern look at Wolgraft. He pauses while pacing away from Wolgraft. “Fair enough.” He claps his hands twice, “Good right… then three days from now you lead your armies north Soldat. Wolgraft, march your forces tonight. Wait outside the city in the woods until you see Soldat has attacked then give them everything you got. Upon the fourth nightfall, I shall send my troops by Riverway into the sewers and capture the city.”

Their plans are interrupted when one guard shrieks pointing out the window over the horizon. “Oh, gods! It’s the Azurians!” yells the other guard by the window.

Guildred leapt to the window looking out to see a somewhat well-portioned force of soldiers.  Four waves of soldiers each one holding at least four ranks.  Then he sees in the flanks a terrible sight. “Hmm, they have tanks.” Wolgraft eyes grow wide as he looks over the distant field.  Even though they had just breached the horizons hillside, it is still clear it would be impossible to fight them all off.  That is more than a war band but rather an entire army. “There’s a traitor among us brother.” Wolgraft shook as Guildred spoke. “Don’t fear. This eve I alone will sacrifice upon the altar. Soldat, gather your men and leave. Head to Belcross and move your armies to Ulfates.”

Soldat bows to the ground. “Yes my lord,” he says before rushing down the spiral stairs of the windmill.

Wolgraft stood up from the table to stand next to Guildred who still has not turned from the window. “My brother, stay strong for me.” Wolgraft nods. “Take our sisters to safety and grab Lasandra she’s too valuable to leave behind.”

“Of course.” Wolgraft replies.

“Along the way back is an old road tavern.  There is a man there named Bram, get him before you go to sister. He knows the wilderness, and Bram is a talented slayer. I want you to head north past Verst. Go to Elitus… Soldat will hold the south. Blend in with the people and establish a new base until I return. Keep sister safe. Go as merchants if you must but keep sister and yourself safe.”

“You can’t be serious. We will both leave.” Wolgraft barks.

Guildred grabs Wolgraft’s shoulders; he shakes him once.  The whites of his eyes were like a sea surrounding an island. “I need you to follow my orders right now brother. If I leave our forces now, they will have no moral, and we won’t hold out long enough to ensure the escape of most our troops. I can hold off this group for some hours.”

Wolgraft breaks from Guildred’s tight grip throwing his arm up in a wild gesture. “Then I fight with you. The two of us as brothers. Let Soldat take sister!”

Guildred shakes his head “Don’t be stupid!” he roars causing Wolgraft to take a step back. “We can’t risk the both of us, if we both die here, there will be no one to carry on the Ashnod family, and then we would never see home.” He takes a step towards the window and looks out over the field at the moving forces in the distant. “At least, this way I can ensure that some of us make it home. You’re wasting time, get Aerist and get the hell out of here.” Guildred rips off his glove and draws a knife from his side. He cuts his palm squeezing to allow his blood to drip onto the floor.  Wolgraft feels like his eyes are about to fall out of his head.  Only people who practice witchcraft do things like that. “Go now; that is an order, brother,” Guildred sniffs.  Wolgraft figured by now he feels the pain searing in his hand.  He places his glove back on and walks away from Wolgraft down into the hall while all the knights are heading to their positions.

Wolgraft looks out the window again and back at the door to where his brother went. “Guildred you fool! Do you intend to die after all we been through? He’s right, though. If I die too, there is no telling who will carry the revolt. Our deaths would simply be a stain on a page.” He thought to himself as he walks to the stables.

~

The clopping of a horse’s hooves breaks the silence of the serene farmlands. Wolgraft rides over sweeping green orange and yellow meadows, a gentle breeze rustling the plentiful reeds. Field workers stand up revealing themselves in the harvest columns. Wolgraft kicks his feet from the stirrups of his horse as the old wooden country tavern becomes closer.  Stopping his horse, Wolgraft dives off onto the ground.  He runs over the dusty walkway.  Wolgraft avoids tripping over sporadic grass patches that poke through the sunken cobblestones. The old building was two stories tall, with a small stable off to the side with several owsen.  He bangs his fist on the withered pine door stirring commotion from inside.

The door opens revealing an older gentleman covered in grit. “My my you look familiar, but you are too young to be Guildred, must be Wolgraft, his brother?  What brings you here my boy?” he asks in a concerned voice.

“I have little time.  Get every able man ready. Have them take strategic shots if anyone comes down the road then get the hell out of here.  The Azurians are coming from the northeast.” The old man nods his head. Wolgraft grabs the old man’s arm as he turns away. “These orders from are Guildred himself.  He also said there was a slayer here by the name of Bram.”

~

As Guildred hunched over the battle plans laid out on the table, he swings his arm knocking all the pieces to the floor.  They scatter rolling away before coming to a stop. “All this for nothing. For nothing!” He roars.  Rising to stand up straight he walks over to the window resting his hands on the sill.  The enemy soldiers are no longer distant figures, but he could make out their faces.  The men in front are ill-equip.  Though as his sights raise toward the rear row, he notices a gradient of more well-equipped soldiers turning into full-blown knights.

Guildred glances to a group of soldiers with rifles in their arms had grown beside him. The long barreled guns are a welcome sight to Guildred giving him a slight smile. “How many shots do we have?”

One man replies “We have 15 shots between the five of us.”

Guildred then roars “Good then I expect to see 20 dead officers. You hear me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Take the roof!” Guildred hollers in a commanding voice pointing at two of the men. “You three, windows.” As the men are trotting to their positions, he yells “We will give them hell.”

Guildred points to another soldier. “You gather the men at the bottom floor. Get every man who dares approach the doors and bury a spear in his throat.  Today this is not a farmhouse but my castle.”

~

Inside the dank cellar, Wolgraft sat at a table dimly lit by candlelight.  “So, Guildred is calling in his favor with me.” says a man with a gruff voice.  “Figures, so you want me to smuggle you out of here.”

“Me and my sister and our maid.  Also the daughter of a mancer named Lasandra.” Wolgraft added.

Bram was silent but instead just looked off into the dark.  “That sounds rather complicated,” he says before letting out a long sigh. “Fine, gather your things and meet me outside of the northern walls of Belcross.  Don’t take more than ya need, got it.”

Wolgraft nods his head.  “Thank you, Bram.”

“Yeah yeah, Guildred saved my life once boy.  Ight guess I should save you from that trouble.” Bram says before motioning for Wolgraft to leave.  “You best hurry.  I want to get a good lead on them Azures.  Bloody evil runs in their blood.” He pauses looking back over at Wolgraft “No offense Sir Ashnod.” he chuckles.

~

Wolgraft road as swiftly as he could through the woods dodging the thick trunks as he rides through a long forgotten merchant road.  His brother’s plight weighed heavy on his mind. He could hear the hollers of warriors slowly fade away into the peaceful forest ambiance. His sword rattles as his horse’s hooves kicked up dead leaves.

The threshold fast approaches until he rides out into open fields.  In the distant, he can see the walls of Belcross. Upon entering the fielded lands of farms, he hears his cape flowing behind him.  It was not long until he drew the attention of the people working the fields. He imagines alone as he appears as a bolt from the empire. He rides past several of the watchtowers provoking the guards of the Honor Brotherhood to travel behind him.

Catching up beside Wolgraft one guard says to him “Oh it is you, sir. What news do you have Wolgraft?”

“Invasion, Soldat is coming for you, assemble yourselves now. You are going to Ulfates. If the empire finds us here, then all our lives are lost.” Wolgraft composed as possible, but he appeared solemn.  “Ulfates, defend her, if we fail there, then our cause is lost.”

“Wolgraft, none of us is going home… is we?” His horror spelled out in the soldier’s sour eyes.  Wolgraft keeps forward saying nothing as they rode back to the quiet city.

~

The Reed Arms Tavern is a pub colored pub, pub chairs and pub tables with a traditional pub bar stools and all the usual expected inhabitants decorate the wooden tavern. A large cache of assorted liqueurs lined the walls behind the bar.  Several people sat about drinking and chatting. With no hesitation, Wolgraft moves through the pub to a hidden door in the back causing a pair of soldiers to stand up from the bar.  Yet he had not even the time to address the couple.

Wolgraft walks down the old creaking cellar stairs into a small hall with several doors. He passes the first three sets, opening the fourth door on the left. Upon opening the old withered door, three women turn to look at Wolgraft two of them bearing daggers.

The first and closest to the door is the unmistakable long pale red-haired, Lasandra but her most noticeable characteristic is her long ears and pointed nose.  She looks much like an elf.  Apparently, everyone else thought the same as she had gained such a moniker attached to her, Lasandra the elf.  Though, Wolgraft would never utter that in her presence.  Her emerald blue eyes lit up with joy.  “It’s only you,” she says covering her chest with her hand laying the knife flat.

“Brother what are you doing here!?” says Ariest who’s sitting on her bed next to Mayfare.  Mayfare had been braiding Ariest’s golden blond locks in a way that seemed to show her royal heritage.

Dropping the twin ropes of hair Mayfare stood up from the bed began folding the various clothing stung about the room, her purple eyes hidden away behind lavender locks.  This aroused Ariest to bark out “Mayfare!?”

“Was it so obvious to her,” Wolgraft thought to himself.  “Gather your things, ladies. We will be leaving.” Wolgraft says.  The sound of rushing boots down the stairs causes Wolgraft to turn to greet three soldiers.

“Is what they say true?” a red-haired man shouts. “Are we under attack?”

“Attack?” Ariest yells.

Wolgraft slams the door shut behind him.  He stood up in the most postured manner he could manage. “Men you have your orders! Gather your things and meet with Soldat.”

“And where will you go?”

Wolgraft shook his head. “You should not be questioning me at a time like this.  I have a vital mission.  Guildred was specific about his plans.  Follow your orders soldiers and gather up your things.  Go with Soldat to Ulfates.  I will meet up with you later.”

“Yes, sir.”

The door behind Wolgraft is is drawn open by Ariest. “What is this about brother? Where is Guildred?”

Wolgraft looked over his shoulder. “Aerist get your things ready! I will explain later.”  He says wrenching the door shut again.

“Lord Guildred is not with you?” says the soldier causing Wolgraft to turn back to him. “Where is Guildred?”

“He is at the windmill Ziekden,” Wolgraft replies his eyes shifting back and forth as it walloped him that his brother has died in battle about now. “Go!” Wolgraft barked at the soldiers. “You are wasting time.”

“Yes, sir!”

~

Outside Soldat had arrived riding into the town gates as the people swarm him. They cried out begging him not to leave with his troops. Soldat grabs his sword unsheathing it from his side and with a thundering roar hollars, “Keep your hands off me.” The people back away a few steps as Soldat ride through. The city is in a total panic. People are running about, and the soldiers are fighting to keep the ordinary people off of them.

“Please don’t leave they will kill us all,” says an old man to Soldat.

“We have our orders.” Soldat coldly growls while sat upright on his horse.

The sounds of wailing and screaming surround as people bar their houses shut and rushing out of the town escaping as the soldiers were. It was not long before his men were ready and he had assembled them outside of the city. He stands before a regiment of over two thousand soldiers. “We fought hard to get here today; we fought hard yesterday, and we will fight hard again tomorrow. There is an army like we never faced before coming this way. We cannot defeat them here. We must fall back, but we are not cowards. Guildred right now is fighting for us to give us time to unify our armies. They are throwing everything they have this side of the world at us. Let us not be afraid and regroup. To Ulfrates!” he hollers.  Soldat felt a lump grow in his throat as the silence and scattered responses drew out.  Raising his hand, he directs his horse to ride east. The soldiers followed, even if reluctantly.

  ~

Wolgraft sat on his horse with his sister on his lap. She is covered with a brown commoner cloak along with Wolgraft. The two maidens share a horse, as Bram leads the group. The three horses trotted in a triangular formation as they swiftly ride out of the city into the wilderness of open orange fields. “Guildred! Where is Guildred?” shouts Aerist, who turns to look up into her brother’s dead eyes.

Wolgraft arches his head back. “He has already headed north. He left without us because he was afraid we would be caught in such a large group.” He felt a lump form in his throat as he knew most likely Guildred was fighting for his life as they spoke. Maybe even dead, laying on the ground with a spear through his belly. This thought made Wolgraft sick with regret. Though as commanded he kept a smile on his face.

“You think he went north. Where are we going?” Mayfare’s sheepish voice could hardly be heard above the sound of clopping hooves.

“We are going to Elitus. It is not safe for us in the south anymore.” Wolgraft replies in the calmest of tones as he snuggles against his younger sister.

However, Wolgraft’s words nor embrace brought her no comfort. “And it is safe in Elitus! Have you two lost your minds.” Retching her arms to the side, Ariest struggles free from her brother’s hands.

“No, it makes perfect sense. The Azurians won’t be looking under their own nose. Instead, they will look for us to the south. Once they can’t find us in the south, they will assume we are hiding out in the Freeholds. They won’t go to the Freeholds. The Sparks clan will make sure of that.”

“Elitus huh, I been there a few times. Big city, real beautiful. The kind you can get lost in. It’s a place that will spoil you if you let it.” Lasandra muses.

“Aye, the place you can get lost in, more ways than one. Gotta be careful of all them ruling folk, though. You may miss a head before nightfall around folk like that. The common folk is just as bad, though. Dogs and robbers the lot of them.” says Bram.

“I am sure it is not as bad as it was during the wars, Bram. It has been fifteen years since those times.” Wolgraft trying his best to reassure the girl’s everything will be okay.

“Say what you like, but I don’t feel comfortable going up there. Guildred better has good reason to be sending us that far north.” Bram grunts with profound uneasiness.  “It was not a right place when Golgotha ruled itself, now that it is under a distant ruler’s commands, it’s decayed.”

“Wolgraft are you all right,” says Mayfair. “You are looking pale.”

“I am fine… we keep heading towards Verst.” the world darkens as Wolgraft felt his vision get hazy.  Unable to keep his body stable, he fell off his horse.  Soft arms wrap around his waist as he felt the rest of himself go limp into his sister’s lap.

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