Offline knightmare560

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« on: November 10, 2019, 01:17:47 PM »

“Whether stealing a necklace or an apple, it’s still stealing, and you’ll have three sunrises and sunsets to understand this. Take him away.”
Seated upon his great gilded chair placed in the middle of a three-step dais overlooking the great hall, Lord Jean of the Tymerian House Groover released a stressed groan and rubbed his hairless scalp as his guards dragged the soot-covered adolescent thief out the main door and onlookers whispered their comments among each other.
“Who’s next, William?” Jean asked his castellan.
At the bottommost step of the dais, the middle-aged castellan raised a piece of parchment. “Next is Loro’daas, leader of the three elves accused of the Maiden’s Cry murders.”
Jean slowly inhaled and prepared himself as the main doors swung open with a loud, echoing groan. The guards dragged the elf in by his shoulders and threw him at Jean at the bottom of the dais. The elf looked no different from the others Jean had encountered. Like the other forest-dwelling elves, this one was copper-skinned with night-black hair, pointed ears, and emerald eyes. Streaks of black ink snaked over his arms and across his body. Half the elf’s face was painted black, as was custom among the Sylvanish, the other half bruised and swollen from the beating it had received from the guards.
Not this again, Jean thought.
Not another conflict with the Sylvanish elves. Nine miners, all dead. It had taken Jean months to find the right men for the job. Fear had halted progress for the past six months, fear of the elves living too close to the mines. The elves hated humans, hated anyone who dared to walk into their woods.
Jean had hoped peace would hold out. Keeping men from going beyond the mine entrance ensured no conflict, or so he’d believed. They’d followed their orders, but it had made no difference to the elves. The elves spilled blood first. As Lord of Stoneheart fortress, Jean knew his responsibilities. Justice must prevail for the people of Stoneheart.
A grim wave of whispers fell across the torchlit hall, and within it Jean heard the onlookers, heard their desire for the elf’s death. They were the people of House Groover, of Jean’s family. Jean swore them a silent oath to ensure the public trial would not end without justice. He had tried the diplomatic approach with the elves, yet nine good men were dead now because he’d foolishly believed honor could exist among elven savages. Trials were for humans, not elves.
“Loro’daas of Clan Joreevela,” Jean began, “you stand accused of murdering nine miners working within Maiden’s Cry Mine. Do you deny these accusations?”
 “I swear, we didn’t kill those men.”
The chill in the hall was palpable, as if the winds of winter had personally come to witness it all. Jean gestured a command with his hand, and the two guardsmen stepped away from the elf. “Those mines are rich in gold, yet now I can’t hire miners thanks to you savages.”
“My clan wouldn’t attack your men unless they had entered our woods,” the elf said. “The mine’s main entrance is located outside the forest’s edge, the edge of our woods.”
Typical elves—always acting so superior until they were captured and then they pleaded like whimpering dogs. “Then explain how all but one of my miners were killed, and why my guards found you and your two companions exploring outside the cave entrance this afternoon?”
“Why not ask the one survivor?” the elf asked.
The light of the torches revealed enough of the elf’s face to let Jean know he was unaware of the one miner’s fate. Perhaps the elves hadn’t intended to leave a survivor. “Yesterday, after we found the survivor, we attempted to question him on what had happened. He was silent, as though he’d witnessed unspeakable horrors. Then, once we brought out the few bodies we recovered, he screamed for everyone to stay away and set fire to the bodies before we could stop him. He then tried to seal the mine entrance with our equipment. We restrained him and locked him up.”
 “Bring in the one survivor,” the elf demanded, though he was in no position to make demands. “Ask him to look at me! Ask him if his attackers had these pointed ears!”
If only that were possible. “This morning, before we found you and the others, we found him dead,” Jean explained. “He used his clothes to tie a noose and hanged himself. Never thought I’d see a naked man hanged by his own clothes.”
The elf’s eyes widened with undeniable fear.
Jean smirked, knowing the elf had realized escape was hopeless. And King Robben wasn’t around to protect his kind any longer. Yet the elf continued pleading.
“If you hang me and my brothers, you’ll be hanging innocents.”
So, the other two elves were his brothers. “You think I’m going to trust the word of an elf savage?” Jean faced him, his voice hard and fierce. “I have a duty to my house and to the people who serve it. The families of those miners want justice. As do I and the people of Stoneheart.”
“Elves didn’t kill those men!”
The more the elf protested, the more Jean felt the elf’s guilt. “Guards, have this elf and the other two hanged for murder and be sure to place their corpses on display at the forest’s edge,” Jean commanded. “I want his friends to know what happens when they attack our lands.”
The elf dropped to his knees after a guard lifted him. “Mercy! By the great spirits, we killed no one!”
“Swearing to your fictional gods won’t save you,” Jean snarled.
“I demand a trial by duel!” the elf shouted.
Jean’s anger rose. “You dare demand the rights of mankind? Rights are given by the Light. He gave them to humankind, the first race made in his image, the race meant to stand above the animals—which, includes your kind!” The elf’s demands mocked the Litian faith, Jean’s faith. “Guards, get this elven savage out of my sight!”
Jean rose from his great chair, turned away, and approached the door to the stairway as his guardsmen dragged the struggling elf from the hall, grinning as he heard the applause of Stoneheart’s people. Justice had been served, Jean had done his duty, and showed the elves how they were beneath humans. 
He made his way up the spiral stone steps, knees aching with age as he reached the entrance to his chambers, quietly shutting the door behind him once he entered. It was dark within his personal chambers, but it was empty and away from people, as he preferred. It was the one place in the Stoneheart Castle he could be at peace. Jean removed his soft cloak and set it on his bed before approaching the warm hearth.
“I hate winter,” he growled to nobody.
From behind him came a deep resounding voice, “Don’t care.”
Jean came alive at the intruder’s voice, removing his family’s ancestral sword from its resting place above the hearth, yanking its polished wooden mount off and sending it clattering to the stone floor as he spun and faced the intruder with a fighting stance.
“Interesting accent,” Jean said. “Are you from the Kingdom of Starfall?”
The intruder materialized from the shadows at the far end of Jean’s chambers. The intruder’s garb was black as the shadows he’d emerged from, a faceless, expressionless, smooth, black metal mask covering his face from the chin up to the mid-forehead. His black hair was cut relatively short, but his eyes stood out from the small eyeholes in his mask. They were dark, bordering on black, and Jean himself found them to be his most frightening aspect. He was of medium build, a bit short for a man, but not to the point where he’d be looking up at most women. He was no doubt a young man. His accent was one Jean hadn’t frequently heard, marking him as foreign.
“There’s a stranger in your room, and the first thing you ask about is my damn accent?”
“If you were here to kill me, you wouldn’t have revealed yourself,” Jean said confidently. “Unless you’re a bloody amateur. Now tell me who you are and why you’re in my home.”
“Straight to the point, eh? Fine by me.” The intruder bowed mockingly. “Jevan of the Knightmares, at your service.” 
Jean knew the Knightmares as well as anyone in the Kingdom of Tymeria. As a boy, Jean’s father told him they were once an infamous organization of vigilantes who murdered any noble they hated, with hideouts in every major city in Tymeria. But when they killed a Tymerian princess, they were hunted down by the Paladin Order, their hideouts found, and each Knightmare destroyed one-by-one until they were no longer considered a danger.
The surviving Knightmares realized working for free wouldn’t feed them and had become typical sellswords loyal to anyone with coin, a result Jean found hilariously ironic. They claimed to fight for true justice, then ended up common mercenaries for hire to survive.
“What does your brotherhood of mercenaries want with me?”
“You have nothing to fear from me. I’m armed with nothing more than a dagger in my sleeve.” Jevan crossed the room, shutting the high, narrow windows one-by-one and pulling the heavy tapestries together, muffling the howling winds. “I’m here to warn you, Lord Groover. Do you know a woman named Elaine?”
Dread crept up Jean’s backbone at hearing the woman’s name; he had hoped never to hear it again. He prayed it wasn’t her. “There are many Elaines in Tymeria.”
The mercenary approached a wall covered by a human-sized banner displaying the sigil of House Groover: two crossed pickaxes. “Well, this one’s seeking vengeance on a man named Lord Jean Groover. You’re the only one in Tymeria, as far as I know.”
Jean picked up the wooden mount and placed his family’s ancestral sword back in its place above the warm hearth. He gazed into the flames as though he expected Elaine’s beautiful face to emerge from them. “If you’re speaking of the Elaine I know, then her reason for placing a bounty on my head is—?”
“For killing her baby girl, your bastard daughter.”
Six years later, and the memory remained unforgotten. Jean’s fists tightened from the guilt he continued forcing out of his head, his mind scrambling for justification. He’d had no choice. If the child had lived, Martha would’ve learned of his disloyalty. He’d been drunk when it had happened. It was a moment of weakness. He’d loved Martha, not Elaine.
“My wife was a fierce woman. She would’ve killed the babe had I not done so myself. I saved them both.”
“Keep telling yourself that.”
Jean whirled, a howl of wind joining his movement. “You’ve never fathered a bastard, boy!” he blazed, enraged now. “You didn’t know my wife! You don’t know what happened! You know nothing of this matter!”
Jevan shrugged. “Perhaps not. But hiring a man to kill a baby in her crib didn’t solve the problem. Fortunately, your wife didn’t live long enough to see this.”
Jean hung his head at the memory. Three years ago, they had been having their third child, their first daughter; giving birth while ill with a fever had required a strength Martha had lacked. Both she and the child were lost.
“You said you’re here to warn me. Anything else you can tell me before I leave to greet Elaine myself?”
Jevan stroked his masked chin, the gesture clearly more for the sake of mockery than true thought. Then he released an exaggerated gasp, snapping his fingers. “Oh, now I remember!”
“Keep your bloody voice down,” Jean said, irked. “That mask deepens your voice.”
Jevan’s voice softened to a whisper. “Sorry, well, I’ve learned Elaine has hired only one assassin to bring her your head. But, see, I know this assassin, and she’s very dangerous.”
“Elaine hired a woman?” Jean pondered. “There are some infamous killers in Tymeria, but I’ve never heard of a woman. Does she have a name? What does she look like?”
Jevan sat on the edge of Jean’s bed and lowered his head, his tone darkening. “Her name’s Senya. She’s a ginger woman with an elf’s beauty and a saurian’s strength.”
Jean felt his own heart racing. Jevan’s grim words sounded truthful enough. He shouldn’t underestimate this enemy. He approached the mercenary. “How do you know this?”
Jevan met his gaze, his eyes narrowed alarmingly. “I’ve met her before, and even fought her, but she got inside my head. At the end of our fight, I was horribly defeated by that woman’s perfect ass.”
Rage moved Jean’s arms as he grabbed Jevan by his collar and heaved his light body off the bed, slamming the young man against the wall covered by the Groover sigil. “I’m in no mood for your juvenile jests, Knightmare!”
“Temper, temper,” Jevan chided. “All this anger’s unhealthy. Is this how you thank someone?”
The young Knightmare was getting on his nerves. “You expect me to believe a sellsword came all this way to warn me out of the goodness of his heart?” Jean hissed. “I’m sure you’re expecting payment when this is over.”
The sellsword raised his arms in an exaggerated shrug. “Well, I need to eat, don’t I?”
Jean released him and stepped back. “Please, no jests.”
Jevan gave a light bow. “As you wish.”
“So, you want payment for warning me? Or do you seek employment as a temporary bodyguard while I ride to face Elaine?”
Jevan tilted his head. “Huh? Oh, someone’s paying me for all this, but not to warn you.”
The wind howled again, and Jean’s heart skipped a beat. He took a cautious step back. “I don’t understand. Who’s paying you?”
Jevan’s dark eyes stared menacingly as he made a small head gesture. “Her.”
“Knights in the night,” an unfamiliar feminine voice whispered. 
Jean gasped as his mind was filled with fear, rage, and shame all within a mere moment. Jean tried to reply, but a gloved hand covered his mouth tightly, blocking off his words. His scream became a useless muffle as he tried calling his guard. The Knightmare had been toying with him, making a fool out of him all while plotting to murder him. He’d been well and truly played. Then steel gave his throat a sudden, cold, crimson bite.
His last thought was of Martha.
« Last Edit: November 10, 2019, 07:20:49 PM by knightmare560 »