265Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡm7C2WeGze2
He stood atop the ramparts of the Keep’s many walls, looking out over the forest and flatlands below with a growing feeling of unease.
Kept relatively stationary during the light hours of the day by their Apelat footsoldiers, the Dhampir’s forces were spread like a black stain across the rise only a little over two miles away and were advancing ever closer with every inch of ground lost to the shadows by the setting sun. Wheeling overhead like a vulture circling a kill was a single winged figure who, even from the distance he was at, Eros instantly recognized.
So this is Kharon’s great legion. His brown eyes squinted as he struggled to take stock of their forces only to have the numbers become lost in the scramble of the upper hundreds. Even with the Apelat hiding from the sun there has to be at least 1000 of them! At this rate, they’ll surround the castle by nightfall and even with the wards in place they’ll only be delayed.
Turning away from the scene and returning to the ladder propped against the stone wall, he descended to the courtyard and rushing inside as quickly as his injured body could take him. Grabbing the first person who happened to be passing by, he spun them around and all but pinned them to the wall.
“Do you have any idea where Cerdic has gone off to? There’s been a change of plans.”
The young recruit recovered from his surprize with admirable speed and directed him towards the nearest staircase. “Last I heard, he was in the war room with a number of the others Sire. If he’s not there, I’m sure that one of them will know where he went.”
“Thank you.” Called over one shoulder as he took off again, sprinting up the stairs and pushing the heavy wooden doors of the war room inwards.
What he found inside was not the conference he’d expected, but rather a heated argument between Luciella and his second in command; at the sound of the door closing behind him both looked up.
“Eros! Thank the Angels!” Today the dress that she wore was green and gold, rippling against the floor as she quickly crossed the room into his arms. “Please inform your second in command that neither he nor I are leaving you here alone to face them tonight!”
“Not tonight, no. You’re leaving now.”
Luciella looked horrified by the prospect and opened her mouth to respond, but Cerdic spoke first. “I thought the plan that we agreed on was that we would all remain here, at your side, until the fighting began.”
He nodded, arms tightening somewhat as he pulled her closer and eyes never leaving the knight in front of him. “It was, but then I saw the true reality of what it is that is coming for us. Even without the Apelat, the span the horizon in both directions! If you wait until nightfall, you’ll be running straight into a trap.”
“I’m not leaving you!”
“You’re right, you’re not, but you are heading to safety and if I have to order them to drag you there I will!” Pulling the locket from under the folds of his clothing he showed it to her. “As long as I have this you will always be with me, and you know that I will always be with you, but I will not see you come to harm.”
“Lady Luciella, you know that your presence here during the battle will only lead him to worry over you. That is a distraction that he cannot afford.”
“...You’re right.” But it was clear from her expression as she buried her face in the crook of his neck that she didn’t like having to admit it. “Come back to me.”
“I wish that I could make that promise,” Eros told her with a heavy sigh, his warm calloused hands coming to rest on her shoulders. “But I can’t. We both know that. And I will not lie to you.” Releasing her, he stepped back. “You should go and get your things; take only what you must so that it doesn’t weigh you down.”
As Luciella hurriedly left the room Cerdic stepped up to him. “I’ll look after her, Eros.” After receiving a nod in answer he left the room in search of his charge.
Just as he’s suspected, he found her sorting through one of the drawers of the dresser in the room that she and Eros shared.
“Come to help me pack, I assume?”
“You know as well as I do that I don’t have a choice in matters, Luciella. Eros’ orders are to take you and a number of the others and flee from this place, and I am bound to follow them.” Picking up the ornate music box off of a nearby table, he turned it over in his hands before crossing the room and handed it to her. “For what it’s worth if I had my way I, for certain, would not be going anywhere. And if you had yours, I can tell you wouldn’t either.”
Taking the fragile glass object from him, Luciella sighed. “Eros is right about one thing; I’m not a warrior. Not like him. Not like you.I’d only get in the way.” When she looked away from him her red hair fell in a curtain across his face. “I’ll be ready to leave in a few moments, but there’s something I need to find first.”
“Ready to leave,” he repeated, eyes landing on the small rucksack sitting open on the bed containing a few simple outfits and, now, the music box. “My Lady, you’ve barely taken anything; I’m well aware of the need to travel light, but what of your dresses? Some of your more valuable things, like jewelry? All you’ve packed are peasant’s clothes and a number of Eros’ gifts to you through the years.”
“How long have you known me, now, Cerdic?” her tone was almost sharp, now, as she tied her hair back with a ribbon. “Where it’s true that most women, especially most noble women, put enough stock in such pointless things to risk their very lives to hang onto them I’ve never cared much for materialistic finery. I’m already being forced to leave behind that which is most important to me, but I won’t allow them to take from me what mementos I might keep of him as well.” Opening another drawer, she continued digging through the contents before finally locating what she’d been looking for. “Here it is.”
Luciella turned the little metal medallion-cold hammered into the shape of a dove and about the size of her palm-in her hand a few times so that the feather detailing on its spread wings caught the light of the sun streaming in through the window, regarding it softly before she spoke again. “He made this for me, back when we were still little more than children. It was the first gift that he ever gave to me. I couldn’t leave it behind.” Placing it into the rucksack and pulling the ties closed, she swung it over one shoulder before facing him again. “I’m ready to leave now.”
“Head out to the stables, then. I’ll collect the others and we’ll meet you up there.”
The lower floor of Greer Keep was a flurry of activity, their forces which would be staying behind with their leader swarming with an intensity which only multiplied as night marched ever closer, and though most were aware enough to notice her and nimble enough to stop or change direction before colliding with her it wasn’t without a good bit of jostling that she managed to make it outside.
Luciella had just managed to strap the saddle onto her chestnut mare, Amaranth, and slide the bridle into place when Cerdic pushed the door of the stable open and lead a group of ten others inside.
“These are all of them that are coming? Everyone else is staying behind?”
The knight shook his head. “No, but the other’s won’t be leaving quite yet. They feel that there are still a few more preparations that they need to make before departing and will be catching up with us.” As he freed Kestral from her stall and quickly retrieved the bridle and saddle Glory began snorting loudly and strained his neck over the top of the door of his stall as if searching for his rider. “Not this time, Glory. Eros will come to get you in a few hours.” Gently pushing the stallion’s head out of the way to prompt back into the stall, he led his own horse out to join the others.
“None of us will be returning here-I doubt this place will still be standing by day break-so all of you had best have said your farewells to whomever you need to and brought your belongings with you. With that said,” his hard gaze landed on each of them in turn, “are we all ready to leave?”
Murmurs of assent passed through the small mounted party, some looking more reluctant than their fellows to leave and others glancing nervously back towards the North.
“Very well. Let’s head out; we’ve a lot of ground to cover before nightfall if we’re going to make it clear of the conflict.” Turning his horse with a tug of the reins and the twitch of a heel, Cerdic lead the group at a full gallop into the trees with Luciella-silent and gaze locked on the ground-beside him. More than easily able to guess what it was that was weighing on her mind, he broke the regular clatter of hooves against the chair half an hour into their flight. “You’ll see him again, regardless of what the results of this battle may be. I’d hope that you would have faith in that.”
“I do.” Even to her own ears Luciella sounded far from convinced and didn’t raise her eyes to meet those of any of her traveling companions. “He’ll be alright, one way or another.”
But she was left with an unforgiving feeling of foreboding by the prospect of the unforeseeable consequences of the conflict that lay ahead of all of them.