Valken - Part I
Valken - Part II:
The house was a slender two story with a timber frame, painted clean white with bright red accents and a well manicured stone walk. It butted against its neighbors on each side but seemed to loom ominously.
Adriel ran a hand across his back, seeking the hilt of his dagger. Finding no weapon, he chuckled to himself and shook his hand loose. It's her father, not a bloody Black Talon. He smoothed the front of his new duster and knocked on the front door.
The door opened before the second knock, revealing a stocky man with a trimmed grey beard in a worn leather apron. Adriel stood with his hand raised, opened his mouth to introduce himself, and the man quickly turned and disappeared into the house.
Lowering his hand, Adriel peered through the doorway into the empty hall. After waiting until he was certain the man wasn’t returning, he stepped into the house.
The front hall had cherry stained wood floors and was warmly lit by finely crafted brass lanterns. Adriel followed in the direction the man had gone, hearing voices up ahead.
“You left him outside?”
“What, the boy can’t be alone after dark?”
Adriel rounded the corner into a modest kitchen.
Edith faced her father from across a heavy wooden table, hands disapprovingly on her hips.
Her father laughed, “Look at you getting all puffed up, see the boy is here, he’s survived against the odds.”
Edith composed herself, offering Adriel an apologetic smile.
“Ahh.. it’s ok. Adriel Rhodes.” Adriel offered his hand.
Edith’s father sat at the table, “You have a long way to go before we’re shaking hands kid. Take a seat.”
Adriel sat and Edith made a show of sitting next to him.
Her father leaned forward, “Edith likes you, I can see that. The thing is, Adrian, Edith likes most folk.”
“Not like this!” Edith interjected.
Her father nodded, “No, not like this. Me though, I’m the opposite of sweet Edith, I don’t like most folk, most folk don’t deserve it.”
Adriel sat and listened, it was clear the man didn’t want or expect a conversation.
“I look at you… I see most folk. Nicked up hands and some mean eyes, dressed up like a peacock. Only two reasons you're sitting at my table. First, I heard you were wounded in service to my Queen. Second, my daughter has taken a fancy to you, by my liking or not, and the only woman I care for more than the Queen is her.” He sat back, lacing his fingers together, “Now that you’re here, I recognize your order, a Thiefbane. It seems you were in service to your purse, and lead a life traveling the trails of criminals. A life I won’t condone it for my daughter. Have I missed something or are we done talking?”
Edith opened her mouth but Adriel put a hand on her arm, “You see me clearly as I am sir. I don’t lead the type of life that Edith deserves. What you've missed is that I am not ‘most people’. I knew, the moment I saw your daughter, that she would change me forever. I don't need to tell you how uncommon she is, and I recognize that your hands had no small part in shaping that. With respect to you and yours, if you say you're a Queen’s man, I will seek out the queen and offer her my services, in the hope that I may earn the respect you thought I deserved.”
Edith placed her hand over Adriel’s and squeezed. Her father watched Adriel a long while, not talking or moving. After minutes of observation he broke his silence, “It's a small start. We will see where it leads.”
Edith’s face broke out in a giant smile.
Her father stood, “I'll see you out.”
Adriel followed him the way they'd come in, leaving Edith in the kitchen.
As they stepped outside her father spoke, “When Edith was just a girl, she took a fascination with fixing broken things. Nursing abandoned kittens, bandaging broken bird wings, you get the picture.”
“One day she found a stray dog near the market. He’d gotten into something bad, little cuts all over his face and neck. Edith led him home, fed hm, washed him, cared for him. She loved that dog. I think the dog loved her too, right up to the day he attacked her.” He cleared his throat, “I heard her screaming in the backyard. By the time I got to her, he’d shaken her arm loose and ripped her shoulder something fierce.”
“Sir, I swear I will never harm her…”
Her father nodded, “Just know, I killed that dog with my bare hands.”
Five years later...
Adriel pulled the cloak of the Caemlyn Guard close as he walked the Inner City wall, checking on the sentinels posted at each tower. He stopped and looked out over Caemlyn's New City, the expansion men had built around the original ogier construction. Snow covered the rooftops in a soft white blanket, and the warm lights of hearths and lanterns spilled from windows, illuminating the quiet streets.
Unstopping his water flask he took a drink. Spices warmed his mouth and he swished the lukewarm liquid before swallowing. He looked at the flask and smirked. A small surprise from Edith to let him know she was thinking of him.
He rubbed his left thumb against his ring finger, feeling the weight of the wedding band beneath his gloves. Winter held a special place in both of their hearts. He’d received a promotion to work the Inner City in the first days of winter, three years past, and ridden the high of the news back to her father’s home to ask for his blessing.
The news of his promotion was a candle to the sun when her father laughed and said yes around a suffocating bear hug.
They’d married that same winter, with a small ceremony in one of the palace’s many gardens. It was the first time Edith’s father had been inside the palace and the man seemed nearly as excited by that as he was about the wedding. Edith had never looked so stunning, her face peering out from the fur lined hood of a fine white cloak, fitting perfectly with the snow covered trees and fountains of the garden.
A year later and Edith had been promoted to full Wisdom and assigned to the northeastern quarter of the New City. They were comfortable, happy, and in love.
The world moved on around them. Trouble stirred in the farther reaches of the realm, a village by the name of Emond’s Field had declared civil war. Asserting their independence as the ancient nation of Manetheren, bucking the Queen’s rightful authority. The Children of the Light had inserted themselves, always ready to fuel a fire, and were spurring conflict.
Adriel shook his head, he couldn’t imagine how a bunch of farmers thought they would be better off without Andor, or the Queen.
Adriel turned, a young guardsman was running along the wall walk, hand waving for his attention.
“Caemlyn is under attack!” The man bent over, trying to catch his breath, “Whitecloaks sir, past the Northgate of New City.”
Sprinting past the guard Adriel shouted for him to rouse the wall, get the signal fires lit and the battlements manned. He flew down the spiralling stair of the nearest tower and fell in with a group of soldiers moving toward the Northgate.
The cold air burned in his lungs as he ran, this was far beyond what he had suspected the Children were willing to do. Relations were never good, especially with the Queen’s close relations with Tar Valon, but he’d have never of bet on open war with the Children.
The Andoran soldiers turned onto the main boulevard through the New City. Ahead, a group of Children were skulking along the edge of the street, keeping close to the buildings.
Adriel, in unison with the soldier's bellowed, “Forward the White Lion!” and charged the Children.
Leaving his service blade sheathed, Adriel drew his dagger and fell in behind one of the other guard. The guard collide with a burly Whitecloak, locking blades. Adriel slipped around from behind, punching his dagger into the Whitecloaks side, slipping through the mans chainmail tunic, into and then out of his ribs below.
The burley whitecloak grunted but otherwise seemed unaffected, he overpowered the Andoran guard, knocking him to his back.
A flash of white to his left, Adriel ducked. A heavy claymore whiffed through the air above him, carrying through and connecting with the burley Whitecloak, severing through his shoulder and nearly taking his head clean off.
A young Whitecloak stood over Adriel, a shocked expression on his face as he looked in disbelief at his heavy blade, buried in his companion. Adriel slipped his dagger beneath the man's helmet, under his ear, pushing the blade into his head.
Standing, he surveyed the street. A mixture of Caemlyn Guard, Andoran Army and Whitecloaks littered the ground. Deep rivets of brown mud, and sprays of bright red blood decorated the otherwise clean snow. A few Andoran Army remained standing, checking the injured.
Another group of soldiers approached. “Any man not wounded or tending them is ordered to report to the Center Square for orders.”
A Lion Warden, a member of the Queen’s Elite guard, stood before a heavily polished table in the Center Square, a map of Caemlyn spread out before him. He wore double golden braids on his red tabard, signifying his rank as a Captain. Near one hundred soldiers stood around him, groups stepping forward when he called out a number. They would take orders while the captain jabbed at his map, and then quickly deployed to various parts of the city to carry them out.
As Adriel worked his way closer to the Captains table, a man covered in blood came galloping into the square. His horse's flanks heaved and it's skin steamed in the winter air. He dismount shakily and the Captain waved him forward.
“Sir, they breached the northgate. They pushed far into the city before the Soldiers were able to throw them back. The assault is over but we've many wounded and they burned the Wisdom house.”
The world tipped under Adriel's feet. He stepped unsteadily forward, gripping the shoulder of a soldier in front if himself for balance. He shouted out, “Wha- What of the Wisdoms?”
The man looked at him and gave a small shake of his head.
Adriel darted for the horse, staggering but managing to keep his feet. He mounted the animal and spurred it around, thundering out of the square to shouts from behind.
Houses and shop fronts whipped by on both sides, he galloped through a blurring tunnel of stone and painted wood. Laying low on the horse he urged it for more speed down the narrow streets.
Up ahead he could make out the hateful red of a massive fire. It licked at the sky, consuming what had once been the Wisdom's house. Bodies peppered the snow in front, dark patches in the reflective orange glow.
He dismounted before the animal had stopped, skidding along the wet cobblestones. The corpse of a man lay directly in front of him.
Adriel called out, “Edith!”
He spotted a white dress ahead, face down, he leapt the corpse and sprint to it. Pulling the body over, he was met with Minna's weathered eyes, glazed over and empty. He shouted hoarsely into the bitter cold, “Edith!”
Looking frantically around his eyes fell on another body, petite, curled gentle in the snow as if asleep. Adriel scrambled across Minna’s body, thrashing through the snow. He reached the body and his wife's lifeless eyes stared back at him.
Adriel lifted her and pushed his face into her neck, screaming in agony. Something inside of him broke and he felt himself floating, drifting, falling…
Some days later…
Adriel picked at a chip in his sniffing glass, the loud drone of the Black Fox Tavern washing over him. He raised a finger for another.
“I think you've had enough, guardsmen.”
Adriel looked down at his cloak, then back to the bartender. He tapped a finger on his coin and pushed it forward.
The bartender watched him for a moment then decided it wasn't worth it and refilled his glass with a dark liquid. Shaking his head and walking away as Adriel downed the liquor in a single drink.
Adriel closed his eyes, listening to the conversations around him.
A blacksmith's apprentice whined about his hours, and pay. Two men whispered over a shady business deal. A married woman pretended she was drunker than she was. A group of off duty soldiers argued with a man at the bar.
“You bloody heard me, it's about time someone put that bitch Morgase in her place.” the man said.
Adriel opened his eyes, the weathered wood of the bar was stained with countless circles from wet glasses. He considered the circles and the men and events they each represent, half listening to the argument that was mounting.
One of the soldiers responded, “You should watch that tongue of yours, before you catch more trouble than you’d like.”
The man laughed, “All you Queen’s boys are the same, worshiping the ground she walks. All the while she loses grip over her own nation. What do you think happens when Emond’s Field wins its independence? Deven Ride and Taren Ferry will capitalize and seek sovereignty as well, that or declare themselves Manatheran, the nation was larger than Edmond’s Field. Then you'll have lost three quarters of the Mountains of Mist. With that will go the wealth from the precious mines, and with the wealth, Andor. Tar Valon’s puppet queen will be cast from her throne by her own subjects.”
Adriel stood. A soldier stepped forward, going nose to nose with the man, one of his friends put a hand on his shoulder, “Let’s go Jacks, this pathetic worm is just dreaming of a world where he isn’t a lonely, poor goatson wasting his life in a bottle.”
“Ah yes, it’s me that’s poor and has a problem with the bottle. What is your salary soldier? 15 gold a month? The Children pay triple that just to hear what it is you idiot sobs talk about right here in public.”
The soldier swung but his companion caught his arm. Adriel slid past them.
Slamming the man's head into the bar, Adriel drew his dagger and hammered it through his neck.
He stepped back, watching the man's body convulse. The dagger pinned him to the weathered wood, buried past its guard and midway up its hilt.
“Blood and ashes!” One of the soldiers tackled Adriel to the ground. “Call the guard!”
Adriel laid, unresisting, on the bar floor, listening to the pattering of blood against the floorboards.
The City Guard filed in, pausing at the scene. Adriel was lifted from the floor and shackled. They looked at him uncertainly, he only recognized one of them, a young Squadsmen who had joined a few days prior.
He was carried down the street, not resisting but being hauled between two men who had little interest in allowing him to gain his feet.
They passed beneath the stonework entrance of the dungeon and down into the torch lit tunnels below.