Kingdom Crisis: Duty Calls

The following is a 1st draft short story. The author takes full responsibility for spelling and grammar mistakes. Content may not be reproduced in any form digital or physical without the permission of the author (me).

Marcus looked at the castle board, rubbed his chin and calculated the risk. Then released his fingers from the black fort and brought his eyes up to grin at his nephew. Marcus then jumped back from the table in a panic, the pieces on the castle board teetered threatening to fall.

The clever grin that had a heart beat ago carved itself into his face disappeared.

“Uncle Marcus, what is it?” A boy not even past his eleventh name day looked up from the game board startled. Following his uncle’s gray eyes he turned to look at the window behind him. Blazing sunlight had bled through the drawn curtains and threatened to overpower the candles that had been lighting the game. The boy’s face blanched as he turned back to his uncle.

“I’m late, Duncan.” Dread dripped from the words. For the last 15 years Marcus had never been a breath late for duty. He had always been the one that chastised the other guards for their lapses in judgment which lead to dereliction. Duty, there was nothing more important to him and he had let a castle game displace his responsibility to his king. The impact of that thought paralyzed him, his eyes locked on the light that he should have noticed hours ago.

“Go, Uncle Marcus. We can finish later.” Duncan said as he pulled the castle board back from Marcus, to prevent pieces from getting knocked over by the flurry of movement he expected his uncle to launch into. The comment freed Marcus and he ran into the room he had used and threw an oiled cuirass of interwoven steel rings over his white cotton shirt, grabbed a long blue tabard that was emblazoned with a winged golden crown from a wall peg and pulled it over his head. A calloused hand ran through his tangled mess of golden hair as he cast about the room. He then turned to the bed and snatched a creased and worn, but otherwise unadorned scabbard that had a wide leather belt woven through a pair of steel rings. He then wrapped the belt around the tabard and cinched it with a tight knot. The longsword in the scabbard slapped against his leg as he rushed out of the room.

“Give your mother my thanks for last night’s dinner. I will see you when I see you.” Marcus slowed only to give Duncan’s hair a quick tussle before leaving the small house which was attached to the shop owned by his brother’s widow.

The city of Alcuin was fully awake and stall merchants, wagon laden teamsters and the working populace were crowding the streets; Marcus knew that he had little chance of reaching the castle before 2 bells had rung. He dodged passed a dirt encrusted farmer who was pushing a hand cart full of carrots and turnips; the farmer barely noticed.

Great tapestries depicting great deeds and triumphs of the Sloan line covered the walls of the grand chamber, a chamber nestled in the heart of Castle Urgaul. It was in this very chamber that many of those deeds were plotted and planned. Rough chiseled stone peeked out from behind the edges of the hangings, the floor was hardwood, polished to a red sheen. In the center of the chamber was a black oak table that was pitted and stained with age. Ten high-backed chairs ran along either side of the table. At the head, raised upon a two-hand high dais, sat an impressive throne fashioned from the same black oak and inlay with gold and ivory. Four guards armed with tall halberds and wearing blue tabards with the soaring crown emblazoned onto the chest were positioned around the chamber, two stood sentry to either side of the doors the other two flanked the throne. Side of the doors the other two flanked the throne.

Gregan gripped an open scroll case in one ring encrusted hand and a crushed curl of parchment in the other. He reached a tapestry that depicted the story of his great grandfather’s battle against invaders from across the Beautus sea. The history books tell that the invaders had raided and crippled the coastal cities and villages and his great grandfather, King Craddock Sloan, marched at the head of his army and pushed the enemy back into the sea. The tapestry showed Craddock Sloan astride a white war-horse, striking down the leader of the invading barbarians, while waves crashed around them. The artisan made it seem as if Craddock were riding at ease upon the surface of the roiling sea, while the barbarian struggled against the surf. Gregan glanced at the scene before turning to pace across the room.

One of the seated men, a rotund man who’s bulk pressed against his robes like the meat of an over stuffed sausage when the juices are brought to boil, coughed and wiped a trace of spittle from his mouth before speaking. “Y-Y-Your Majesty, is there n-n-news from Susa?” Gregan’s hazel eyes glanced at the speaker. The king made two more circuits between the two walls before halting his march to stand before the table, eying the five men.

On his right were Lord General Euomin, commander of the Southern March’s armies and trusted friend since childhood, and Archbishop Periglor Ysbyrd, a man inflicted on him by the Church of the Ascended Son. To the left was Avery Ismail a corpulent man who represented the Merchant’s consortium; Duke Abelard Keefe, a cousin to the royal line and a man with heavy influence in the other noble houses and Gideon Cree an academician whose wisdom had tempered three kings, including Gregan. All five men squirmed in their chairs under the weight of the king’s stare.

“There is news from Susa, Ugahit and Rephait,” he threw the parchment and case to the table. The men at the table jerked away from the venomous missive. “It seems that my concessions to the representatives of the commoners were only the tip of the sword they wish to press against the kingdom. It has become more than a desire to have a voice, it has evolved into a demand for power.” Gregan slammed the palm of his hand down on the table causing the five men to jump; even the unflappable Euomin.

“You Majesty, if I might suggest,” Gideon leaned forwarded and rested his thin calloused elbows on the edge of the table.

“Gideon, this mess is partially your fault. It was you who suggested that giving the commoners a voice in village governance would cost little and return great. ‘Kindness rules better than cruelty’, is what you said. Now we have a group of commoners telling ME they want a say in how taxes are levied across the entire kingdom.” Gregan snatched the snarled scroll and held it up for the others. “If I do not agree they suggest there might be delays in the harvesting in Ugahit, Rephait and Susa! I needn’t remind that winter is coming and those three villages produce the foods that keep this city from starving.”

“Majesty, let me take my soldiers and put their leaders to the sword. A swift response will cow the others and all of this foolishness will end.” General Euomin had said the same thing a month ago when a group of commoners petitioned for the right to manage the agricultural details of their villages in conjunction with the local nobles. In private and public Euomin had asked the king to release his men to put the commoners back in their places. Euomin had been an advisor to Gregan’s father, and more of a friend than a member of court. Not once had he attempted to use that friendship to push a personal agenda; until now.

“The Lord General has a point, without their leadership it is likely the others will find the risk distasteful. Correct me if I am wrong, Archbishop but by questioning the divine providence of our sovereign they are committing unforgivable blasphemy.” Abelard gestured to Periglor expecting him to confirm the statement.

“I understand how that assumption can be made; however, it is the duty of our sovereign to protect all of his subjects. Killing these men out of hand is contrary to the wishes of the Son.”

“They have challenged his direct authority and,” Abelard produced two scrolls from the bottom of a pile that had formed in front of him, “according to this document these commoners have been challenging the law of the church itself. In one breathe they declare that the Church uses unfounded superstitions to oppress the men of the land and in another they support the spread of pagan cults. Tell me that these are men worth protecting.” Abelard slammed the papers down in front of Periglor to punctuate his challenge. Periglor stared across the table at Abelard a muscle in his jaw twitching. Avery sucked in a wet breathe and opened his month to speak; Gideon interrupted.

“Yes, let us make martyrs. For everyone that dies for their sin 10 more will flock to this cause.”

“B-b-but we m-m-must keep in mind the r-r-risk to t-t-trade. S-s-some of those v-vvillages supply more t-t-than just food stuffs.” Avery wiped away the spittle that had pooled around his lips.

“Enough! This will get us no where. I think we are all aware of the risks in executing the leaders of this movement and are becoming painfully aware of the risks in letting them continue to gather momentum.” Gregan turned away from the table and stared at the double doors that lead out of the chamber. Gregan’s shoulders drooped for an instance, he rubbed the back of his hand across his dry mouth.

“Marcus, I want some caf.” Gregan said to chamber. The man to the right of the throne, shifted in place and dropped his eyes before speaking.

“You Majesty, Marcus has not yet arrived this morning.” Gregan turned to the throne and eyed the man who had spoken.

“Terril, then. Go, your King is thirsty.” Terril placed the halberd in a rack behind the throne and exited the room without drawing any more attention from the monarch. The door closed and before the seated men could launch into more arguments about killing the commoners or not Gregan addressed them.

“I have heard enough. I need to reflect on your advice. You will be summoned when you are needed.” Periglor, Abelard, Gideon and Avery stood from the table, bowed deeply and left the room without another word.

“Did I ask you to stay?” Gregan walked around the table to his throne and peered at Euomin who remained seated.

“No, Your Highness. I thought only to persuade you to listen to reason. We erred in giving in to them once. We must act swiftly and publicly; otherwise, the next request will be for the throne that you sit on. I have ever been your friend and am only trying to protect…” Gregan stomped a boot on the dais.

“You presume too much, friend” Gregan was almost growling. “Now leave.” Gregan pointed at the door and did not drop his arm until Euomin left the chamber. When the door closed he was alone except for the three guards who stood unfazed by the proceedings. “Where is that damn caf?”

How could this had happened? Marcus had fixated on the question as he pushed past the crowds filling the streets. Part of him was surprised that they did not move for him, the tabard identified him as a King’s guard; but it was not enough to derail his thoughts of how he came to be so far away from where his duty required him to be. The people around him started to part for a large cart of manure that was rolling toward the gate which would lead out of the city.

Marcus was not so distracted that he didn’t notice the cart and moved to one side of the street, stopping for a moment with his back against the wall of a bakery. The stone was hard against his back and he attempted to reason why he hadn’t slept in the barracks.

Sure, there were guardsmen who would spend nights out in the city, drinking and carousing. They were men not saints, regardless of the oaths sworn. Marcus had never been one of those men, the oaths he had sworn were the foundation, duty was the heartbeat of his life; that had been so until he had received the message that his older brother Thom had been killed.

He was only three years Thom’s junior; however, those three years were the towering pedestal that had inspired him to tagged after Thom like a puppy. Thom was the one who got all of the attention so Marcus thought if he stayed close enough to Thom that some of the attention was bound to fall on him.

Thom and Marcus were the sons of Davyne and Esyltt Klae, merchant’s sons. Davyne Klae was not a terribly wealthy merchant, but he had managed to find a few trade routes and sell unique items that to keep a roof over his family’s heads and clothes on their backs. As first born, Thom was groomed to take over the family business. Marcus was the second son and had only two choices; priesthood or the life of a soldier. Both paths had little prospects of station because of his family’s station. He decided to take up the sword and fought back to back with King Gregan himself during a battle with the Sippara, the kingdom to the north. In the steam of the carnage that surrounded them Gregan took Marcus’ hand in friendship. Marcus was then asked to swear the oath and become a member of the King’s guard. The King’s personal guard was a brotherhood who swore their lives to the king forsaking the comforts of family and home, duty before all else. A brotherhood comprised of the second sons of the noblest of houses and Marcus’ King had desired him, a merchant’s son.

Marcus pushed off the wall with a sigh and turned back toward his path to the castle. He had sworn the Oath.

A messenger had arrived at the barracks several months ago and informed Marcus that his brother had been killed. The next day Marcus had located one of the teamsters that had been present.

“It was an accident. I swear it was an accident, “Marcus had pinned the teamster against an alley wall and pressed the point of a long dagger against the man’s Adam’s apple. “We was unloading the shipment from Kashes, all kegs of that beer Thom traded. A tie on a strap gave and the whole mess rolled over him. He were dead by the time we moved them kegs.” Marcus relaxed the dagger and realized that punishing this man would not bring Thom back.

After the funeral he stood watching the gravedigger throwing shovel fulls of dirt on the polished wooden casket. Marcus walked around the open grave and took the shovel away from the gravedigger and continued the job of filling in the deep hole; all the while tears streamed down his face. When he finished he found Helenia, Thom’s wife, standing by the grave.

“He was always so proud of you. He would sit by Duncan’s bed and tell stories about the adventures the two of you had when you were children.” Marcus thrust the shovel into the ground and wiped his dirty hands on his breeches, lost for a response.

“Helenia, I have my duties, but if you and Duncan ever need help. Send for me, if I can I will help. You are family.” Marcus was sure that Thom’s partners and friends had all said the same thing but, it was a comfort to him to extend the offer. He never thought that she would ever speak to him past this day.

Not two days had passed when another messenger informed him that his brother’s shop had been vandalized. Marcus went to Helenia without pause.

“They were in the store yesterday, demanding protection money. With Thom gone they must have thought…” Helenia explained.

“Who, Helenia, can you give me their names?” Going to the watch was the easier thing to do, the right thing to do. Marcus had no intention of going to the city watch for something he could tend to himself.

“I’ve never seen them before,” she replied. Marcus thought for a moment before responding.

“I’ll take care of it. I will be back here tonight when my duties allow. You and Duncan can sleep easy tonight.” That night Marcus returned to the shop and waited for the big boys to show their faces. When they did it wasn’t much of a fight. The four street thugs were dead before they had a chance to lift the clubs they carried. Marcus stacked the bodies in the street for the watch to find. Word would spread that Klae’s store was under protection and violators would be dealt with.

Since that night whenever he duties allowed he would visit the store and eat a meal with Helenia and Duncan. Sometimes he would tell the boy stories of his father before bed and had even started teaching him the game of castles; recently the boy had been asking about the king and what it was like to serve. The previous night while Marcus tucked the boy into bed Duncan asked.

“What is it like to serve the king?”

“It is hard work, I have to be ready for anything at anytime. I have to place my life and everything in it aside for His Majesties needs.” Marcus brushed invisible crumbs off the crown on his tabard.

“Can we play castles in the morning?” Duncan asked.

“I am heading back to the barracks tonight. I have duty in the morning.”

“It’ll be a quick game, while you eat breakfast. Mom has sweet bread.” Marcus smiled seeing so much of Thom in his nephew, his resolve weakened.

“If it is okay with your mother, I will stay.” Marcus blew out the candle and closed the door to the room.

When Terril returned with a steaming pewter mug of the brown liquid that the King’s guards used to keep alert while on duty, he found King Gregan slumped in his throne. It was recent that King Gregan had taken to drinking caf and would only take caf from his personal guards. Terril handed Gregan the mug, and returned to his position beside the throne.

“Terril, any sign of Sir Marcus? He was expected this morning.” Gregan took a deep pull from the presented mug.

“No, Your Majesty. He did not sleep in the barracks and no one has seen him.” Terril was a jovial soul in private with the King, so it was odd for Gregan to see worry etched on the guard’s face. The momentary distraction faded and he took another mouthful of the bitter drink. He sat the mug down and picked up the reports that Abelard had been waving at Periglor. As he read the pages the words were clear but he couldn’t connect the to any real meaning. He returned them to the piles and drank more of the caf.

Gregan again put the caf down and turned, gazing up at the tapestries in the room, hoping the heroes depicted there could leap off the walls and aid him in his crisis. To the right of the doors was a hanging of King Viator Sloan, who sat the throne 200 years before Gregan father was even born. Viator lost the throne and was exiled to the Manabel Islands. While in exile he suffered slanders and coinless sojourns across foreign lands and struggled to return to the Southern March, where he rallied the commoners and the nobles to unseat the usurper. He was known as a hero to people of all stations. Gregan admired Viator and in situations like this was desperate to emulate him; he wondered what this long dead king do in his stead.

Gregan looked away and faced the tapestry which hung behind the throne. It depicted the God’s Son ascending to the heavens and bestowing a holy blessing on the line of Sloan. Jarsol Sloan was friend, student and constant companion of the Son and after the ascension became the first King of the Southern March, though at the time it had been called Amarna. It was the foundation of his rule and his faith. King Gregan Sloan dropped to his knees, bowed his head and began to pray.

“Lord, I don’t know what to do. I have tried to be reasonable, giving my working subjects a voice in the governance of their villages. I have tried to ensure that the nobles do not abuse their power or forget their responsibilities. to their people. I have offered an ear to all complaint and attempted to rule fairly.

“It doesn’t seem enough. It is wrong for a king to wage war on his own subjects. It is wrong for a king to put to the sword untrained men and women who only want better lives. I know this; but I don’t know how to avoid it.

“You bestowed the heavy weight of kingship on my family and we have defended your subjects by your will. I am not Jarsol nor am I, Viator. I need your help, please guide me to the right path.”

It took Marcus three full bells to fight through the fog of his own memories and the crowds of Alcuin to reach the barracks. He threw open the doors and dashed in, allowing purpose and reassured duty supplant the doubt and guilt that had been weighing his feet down.

The main length of the barracks was a wide room with reinforced doors on either end, tables were arranged end to end with long benches tucked up underneath. A great hearth was on the west wall, a large black kettle sat discarded atop the woodpile. The east wall had two large arched openings into the sleeping areas, which were lined with simple beds, trunks, armor and weapon stands.

No one was seated at the table in the common room;however, a handful of men had bunked down for sleep, all of them bolted upright when he entered. One, Campbell, even drew his sword.

“Bloody hell, Marcus. You scared the every lovin’ spirit out of me.” Campbell replaced the weapon in its sheath. “Where have you been? Your shift started four bells ago?”

“Give me her name, Marcus. Any woman that can keep Saint Marcus out all night AND make him late for shift must be worth her weight in gold.” Bayard, a brave man but a complete lecher, commented from his bed. The remaining men added their comments to the mix none of them waiting for a response. When the comments reached a crescendo of inappropriateness Marcus drowned out the voices.

“The boring truth is that I became caught up in a game of castles with my nephew.” The barbed comments came to an end and the guards sat fully up eying one another before looking back to Marcus. Bayard broke the uncomfortable silence.

“Be careful Marcus, the Oath -“

“I know, Bayard, thank you.” Marcus ended the subject. “Terril is covering, good; he owes me after that dalliance with the seamstress.”

“Oh yeah, Terril was in here a couple of bells ago, His Majesty wanted caf. He drained the pot between himself and what he took His Majesty. There was a meeting with “the five” this morning and Terril said that it doesn’t look like His Majesty will be leaving the grand chamber today. He also said something about NOT owing you anymore.” Bayard smiled and gestured to the hearth before flopping back against his pillow. “Caf is all gone, you will either have to brew it yourself or go without.”

Marcus was already late and the time needed to brew caf wouldn’t make him any more late than he already was; he decided that he just needed to get to the King’s side. He would end the day tired but that was a minor punishment for his lapse.

As Marcus went to leave the barracks he did not go through the double doors that lead to the castle proper; rather he went to a span of wall and kicked a jutting stone near the floor, causing the wall to spin in place revealing a narrow and dimly lit corridor. Secret passages woven throughout the castle provided Marcus and the other guards the ability to get from one part of the castle to another quickly and privately. Navigating the correct series of twists and turns would put Marcus at an exit that would allow him to enter the grand chamber from behind the throne. Tradition dictated that he pause at the exit to ensure that he would not be interrupting the king during a potentially intimate engagement.

“Please guide me through the chaos that has besieged my …” The words choked off in the king’s throat. Gregan found that he could no longer move his lips. He tried to bring a hand to his throat but found he could not move his arm or hand. He could not move his body at all. He could see and move his eyes; but he could manage no other movement.

Gregan felt panic bubbling up as the implications of his situation sank in. From behind him, he heard the door of the chamber open and hard leather boots with a tick of metal striking the wooden floor, slow, steady, confident. Out of the corner of his eye he caught Terril lurching from throne, legs moving as if heavy weights had been tied to his knees. Terril groaned and lifted the shaft of the halberd as he passed out of Gregan’s field of vision.

There was a muffled impact followed by a heavy grunt. The room exploded with the sound of crashing of metal and breaking wood; followed by a wet gasp from right behind Gregan. Thick silence hung in the air before the steady foot falls echoed once more. Two more crashes of metal followed by heavy impacts on the floor. The vibrations tickled at Gregan’s frozen knees.

The foot falls approached the raised throne just out of Gregan’s sight. His muscles ignored his commands to strain against the force that held him, the pounding in his chest began to ache; fear held him in a spiked fist squeezing the last vestige of courage out of him. The throne rocked and slid as something fell into it, with another impact of metal and weight. His mind ached with the need to turn and look at the source of the sound, or at the very least to startle.

“It is called gorgon’s breath, a plant that grows as a kind of parasite in the forests of Jappa. The root when crushed to powder dissolves with no residue and it is completely odorless. It does have a slightly bitter taste; however, if mixed with caf it is undetectable. It renders the victim paralyzed for a short amount of time; a few hours depending on the concentration.” Gregan, knew the voice. It was Lord General Euomin.

“I am surprised that Terril was not as paralyzed as you find yourself. Perhaps he did not drink as much as you and the others. No matter, it slowed him enough.” Euomin stepped into Gregan’s sight; the long dagger in his hand was leaving a trail of crimson drops as the General gestured. It was not the dagger that Euomin normally wore at his belt. This was simple, edged on both sides with a thin cross bar, the blade had a knick midway down the length; it was a crude weapon, a weapon a commoner might possess. Gregan wanted to scream, to question, to beg, but all he could do was stare as the man he had called friend his entire life knelt down to stare him in the eyes.

“I am truly sorry about your guards, they were good men and served the kingdom as well as they could; however there are always casualties in war, even good men die.” Gregan expected to see a gloating smirk, a pleased sneer or even a wild expression of insanity; Euomin’s features were soft his eyes filled with sadness and regret; he was the picture of a man doing something distasteful but necessary. “You are my friend, Gregan. I owe you my life in many regards and it gives me no pleasure to take yours. However, the safety and foundation of the Kingdom demands that I do it. I assure you, your daughter will sit the throne and I hope to serve her faithfully through the growing crisis.” Gregan’s eyes bounced around trying to focus on something, anything that could provide him with some hope.

“You were wavering and growing soft. You bent when you needed to be firm and now peasants, commoners take up arms against their rightful rulers. They speak out against the nobles, they speak out against the Church and now they speak out against the throne. It is not too late to undo the damage, I will lead the Southern March’s army to avenge you and to restore proper order to the kingdom.” Euomin looked to the dagger in his hand, he squeezed the grip until his knuckles faded to white and then looked back to the immobile king. “I hope that I can be forgiven, for the murder I commit.” Euomin stood slowly as aged knees protested.

Marcus came to a halt before the stone wall that with a touch would slide to the left allowing him to slip into the chamber behind the heavy wall hanging. With practiced ease he triggered the latch and slid the wall to the side. He paused to listen for any activity that his arrival might interrupt. It was practice when using the secret entrances to attempt to avoid disrupting the king. He leaned forward and caught the end of a statement.

“I hope that I can be forgiven, for the murder I commit.” Marcus quickly weighed the implications of those words. He drew his sword in the silence of the secret passage and used the tip to probe the tapestry for the slit that would allow him to enter without becoming entangled.

Gregan took his focus away from Euomin, hoping that it would convey the tens of thousands of curses which his mind wished to snarl and spit. In his maddened state he believed he saw the tapestry of the Son shift as if a slight breeze caressed it. A glimmer of hope or his near mad mind torturing him.

Marcus couldn’t see the chamber, only the back of the throne; which had been shifted slightly. The guards were missing. Duty took over and pressed him into the room. With a quick side step he was through the tapestry and in the chamber. He darted around the throne and took in the scene before him.

The door guards were collapsed, pools of blood growing beneath them, Payce with whom he would have been on duty, was face down off the raised dais his boot caught against the throne. Across the room Terril’s motionless body was collapsed atop a broken chair, more blood staining the wood floor; and a man with a bloody dagger in hand loomed over the kneeling king.

Marcus dove forward, raising his sword for a powerful overhead blow. He recognized the man, it was Lord General Euomin. Doubt tripped his feet and alerted the older man to his presence.

Euomin twisted to discover the rushing Marcus and brought the dagger up in a quick defensive angle bracing for the impact of the sword. Metal on metal rang as Marcus’ sword took a deep bite out of the dagger. Euomin’s grip never faltered as he turn his wrist and lashed out at Marcus’ eyes with the tip of the dagger.

Marcus pulled his head back avoiding the targeted attack and brought his sword around in a low rising arc. Euomin had to backpedal to avoid the blade. Marcus now had the distance he needed to plan his next attack. The General was one of the best soldiers in the kingdom and even at his age moved like a man half that. Marcus could not afford to under estimate him in combat.

Marcus cross stepped in a slow circle around Euomin; attempting to lead the General away from the immobile King. He expected the king to jump up and find a weapon to put down this foe; or order Marcus to stop but this traitor had done something to his King, he had no time for a dramatic conflict. Marcus closed in half steps, he pulled the sword in close to him attempting to confuse the General’s assumptions about his reach.

Euomin set his feet allowing Marcus to narrow the gulf between them. Marcus struck with a quick swing that caused the tip of the sword to kiss the sleeve of Euomin’s tunic. Marcus has expected the older man to step away from the attack and remain defensive; instead Euomin ignored the slight contact and stepped inside Marcus’ reach, thrusting the dagger at the guard’s unprotected face.

Marcus’ eyes widened as he saw the blade coming toward him and tilted his face away from the attack. The tip of the blade was avoided; however, the edge tore a deep trench into his cheek; biting all the way to the bone. Feral instinct seized Marcus, he growled a challenge, dropped his sword and grabbed Euomin’s weapon hand with his right hand, jerked the arm down and twisted the wrist until he felt the straining bones crack under the sudden and violent pressure. The dagger fell to the ground the clatter lost in the agony of Euomin’s scream. This animal had hurt him and his king and now it was going to pay.

Euomin executed an awkward swing with his uninjured arm, landing a blow to Marcus’ gushing cheek. Marcus bared his teeth in a soundless snarl and pushed his body against Euomin off balancing both men. Their bodies slammed to the floor. With Euomin’s splintered wrist still held fast, Marcus lifted his free fist and brought it down, crushing the General’s nose. The pinned man howled and tried to roll away, Marcus’ fist rose and fell smashing against an ear. The Lord General of the Southern March ceased struggling; Marcus was lost in a fury and continued to pound his fist against the would-be assassin’s face.

Marcus lost track of the number of times his fist rose and fell, he lost track of the number of bones that he felt breaking both the General’s and his own; time blurred and the surge of strength faded. He finally stopped, fighting for breath and rolled off the bloody body of the once noble and respected man. The burning on his face struggled for his attention but he ignored the pain and crawled, slipping in the crimson pool, to his king who was still locked on his knees as if he were praying.

“Your Majesty, are you injured?” Marcus’ voice was weak and hoarse after the senseless sounds he had been emitting. The king did not respond other than to focus from Marcus’ face and to the throne. Not noticing the response Marcus leaned his head back and bellowed. “Attend the King, Raise Alarm. The King is in danger!” He inhaled, his lungs on the verge of bursting and bellowed the alarm again.

“Your Majesty, forgive me I am going to touch your person.” Marcus examined the king for signs of injury, the only blood was splatters from the fight with Euomin and smears from his own wound. He sucked in air to yell again but stopped when the doors to the chamber burst open.

Four of his brother guards rushed in, swords drawn, eyes assessing the situation.

“Summon Heavenfield. Now.” Marcus ordered. One of the guards relayed the message and within moments a thin hairless old man was escorted into the room. He set a great satchel down next to the king avoiding the mess that was Euomin.

“His Majesty lives, I believe but doesn’t move.” Marcus commented as the healer pushed him aside and pressed gnarled fingers against the king’s neck. Heavenfield glanced at Marcus then looked around the room.

“Hand me that cup, boy.” The healer pointed at the mug sitting on the table. “Then go see one of my apprentices about those cuts.” The healers voice reminded Marcus of the sound of crackling wood being burned at a midnight campfire. He groaned as he rose to his feet, wobbled briefly then handed the healer the mug from the table. Marcus stood over the healer waiting for some sign that his king would be well.

“I just told you to leave, get!” Heavenfield pushed Marcus away and turned his attention back to the king peering into the mug. Marcus backed away, thinking it better not to argue with the healer. One of the guards that had come to his call, Gage, slid an arm under his and help him out of the chamber. Before completely leaving the room he heard Heavenfield spitting and muttering.

“Gorgon’s breathe, nasty stuff.”

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