Knight of Valor
He signed Evan Goldleaf on the document then slid it across the desk. Jerold Bellamy scrawled his signature across the paper then held out his pudgy hand to shake on the deal.
Goldleaf merely smiled, letting his reputation take over.
“Sorry about that,” Jerold mumbled as he took back his hand. “Customary and all.”
“I hope this will be a long and prosperous partnership.” Goldleaf dipped his head as he stood. He never took off his gloves, not even in the afternoon heat. Another of Goldleaf’s idiosyncrasies, but one others tolerated as doing business with him tended to make them wealthy. As it would Jerold Bellamy if he abided by the agreement. If he didn’t, well, Goldleaf would deal with Jerold accordingly.
“As do I,” Jerold said.
Goldleaf motioned toward a young man with a thick shock of unruly blond hair. “Nathan will see to all the particulars.”
It was likely the one and only time Goldleaf would meet Jerold Bellamy face to face, and he was glad for that. The man washed too little and wore too much perfume.
Nathan bowed then took the chair Goldleaf had vacated. The lad had a sharp mind and was eager to prove himself. This was a rather simple deal, but if the boy handled it well, Goldleaf had a great deal more for him.
It was too bad he’d lose the young man in only fifty years or so.
But then humans just didn’t live very long.
Turning the meeting over to Nathan, Goldleaf strolled through the offices, assuming a bored indifference. Few glanced his way as he appeared to be like every other successful merchant in Aerius.
His glamour spell was holding beautifully, but then most saw what they expected to see. The spell simply reinforced it. Yes, the occasional child pointed at him, or stared, but most parents quickly corrected their children and fussed at them about their lack of manners.
That suited Edrahil Goldleaf quite well.
He hadn’t thought of himself by his birth name in years. Easier to adopt a human name than listen to them mangle his elven one. Besides, no one questioned Evan. Edrahil might draw attention.
And he’d rather stay unnoticed. It had worked for 200 years. He wanted it to work for 200 more. Maybe longer.
His time in Aerius had originally been intended as a way to make amends for his trespasses. Now, his position in the capital city of Tamryn made him valuable.
Of course it did.
Few other elves could tolerate life among humans, much less build a thriving mercantile empire. And unlike so many of his kind, he liked humans. Yes, they tended to be dirty, uncouth, and always in a hurry, but they didn’t dwell on the past and forget to live. Sometimes that caused them to repeat foolish mistakes, but it also propelled them forward.
They were a boisterous, messy race, trying to cram too much into their short lives, but you’d be a fool to underestimate them. Most of the world already bowed to their dominance. If the elves wanted a place in this world, they had to find a way to coexist. Better yet, they’d have to find a way to thrive.
And Goldleaf would help them. They were still his people, no matter what else had happened.
But few elves agreed with him.
Another wedge between him and his home.
Goldleaf had been away so long, changed so much, he wondered if the woodlands of his youth were still his home. As his cane tapped against the marble floors, he knew the answer. Admitting it was something else.
But then, he had little need to admit anything. And if he were wise, he’d emulate his human companions and forget about such troubling things while enjoying an excellent glass of brandy.
He stepped out onto the street, planning to indulge in the brandy or perhaps open a cask of elven wine. Humans had never made good wine, but brandy was quite a different story.
Goldleaf’s carriage driver tipped his hat and pulled up to the building. As a footman opened the door, magic slapped Goldleaf.
The kind he hadn’t felt since leaving the elves.
His breath knotted in his chest as he searched the street for this threat.
Back from vacation and plagued by computer issues. Here’s a repost of an older story while I try to get my Alienware computer back to acting like a computer and less like a very expensive brick.
Mara swept the first young Knight’s feet out from beneath him and shoved him hard with her shield. He crashed to the ground, and before he could roll away, she hit his breastplate with her sword.
A second Knight charged her, but she pivoted, letting his momentum in full armor carry him past her. As he tripped over the first Knight, Mara hit his back with the flat of her sword.
Two kill shots. Both Mara’s. Anything but a training exercise, and the two Knights of Valor would be dead.
There was laughter and teasing from the sidelines, but a quick look from Mara silenced the other Knights. “How long will you survive in the eastern provinces?”
Knight Keenan helped the two younger men back to their feet. “We’re practicing. They’ll get better.”
“But not good enough.”
“Not all of us can be Sir Marcus,” the Knight Mara had tripped said.
Mara pierced the boy with her hard stare. “Sir Marcus spent his life training to fight a lich. You spent yours training to protect the safe streets of Tamryn.”
Knight Keenan cleared his throat. “We’ll practice again tomorrow.”
Mara looked over the assembled Knights, her gaze resting on each man in turn. “Anything you face in the eastern provinces will be alive because it’s survived worse than whatever haunts your nightmares. Do you think your enemies get knocked down during practice then toddle off to say a few prayers?”
The Knights stared back at her, and several of them clenched their fists at their sides.
“Good. Get angry at me. Better angry than dead. Next lesson.” Mara motioned to a figure dressed in a plain brown cloak.
The woman walked over to Mara and bowed, then turned toward the Knights.
“Skyla,” Keenan said. “What are you doing here?”
“She’s helping me demonstrate a lesson,” Mara said. “Are your healers out here?”
Keenan nodded toward Knight Matthias, but concern reflected in his pale green eyes. “Is this safe?”
“Less dangerous than sending out half-trained men.”
Knight Keenan glanced at Skyla then stepped back. “Be careful.”
Mara looked at the woman in the robes. Her rich brown hair was tied in a simple ponytail, and her large grey eyes seemed too big for her face. She was easy to underestimate as so many mages were.
“Just like we practiced,” Mara said.
Skyla nodded and moved several sword lengths behind Mara.
“Do you think your Knights can beat Skyla and me?” Mara raised a challenging brow at Keenan. “Or are you going to send them to their prayer vigil and hope Dracor gives them fighting skills?”
“I don’t want her to get hurt.”
“Not what I asked.” Mara smiled at the gathered Knights, a taunting expression meant to rile them. “Pick your best seven. If they can get three points in before I get a killing blow, you win, and I’ll come back and help you train them until the new moon.”
Keenan glanced at the recruits and then back at Mara. “You called for a healer. What do you have in mind?”
“Don’t think seven of your Knights can get in three hits?”
“And if they can’t?”
“You owe Skyla and me a hellfire at Ndrek’s bar.”
“Seven against you and Skyla?”
“Until the new moon?”
Mara nodded again.
“They could really use the practice against someone with your skills. You’re sure Skyla won’t be hurt?”
“It’s not her you should be worrying about.”
Mara fell into her battle stance, and she felt Skyla building the first spell as seven young Knights took their positions opposite her.
Keenan signaled the start of combat, and Skyla let loose with the spell.
A wall of flames scorched the ground and rose up between Mara and the Knights. Mara ignored the fire, ducking her head as she charged through it and tapped the chest plate of one of the Knights. Pivoting, she tapped the chest plate of a second before any of them had recovered their wits enough to close their mouths.
The remaining five backed away from the fire and Mara’s blade. Just as she’d anticipated.
Skyla loosed her second spell, and the ground under the remaining Knight’s feet turned to mud.
Slamming her shield into the first Knight’s sword, she shoved hard and sent him stumbling back then barreled into the second. Surprise widened his eyes, and when he tried to turn, he slipped in the mud.
Mara slammed his chest plate with her sword, and if it hadn’t been a practice blade, she’d have killed the Knight. Instead, she sent him into the mud with the first, who’s chest plate she tapped.
They’d hurt, but the bruises would teach a lesson they wouldn’t forget.
The remaining three Knights extricated themselves from the mud as Mara circled around them. She smiled as one tried to flank her while the other two came at her. Sprinting towards one, she used her shield as a battering ram and knocked him to the ground as the second scored a glancing blow against her arm.
She pivoted and knocked his feet out from underneath him them hit his chest plate with her sword. Leaping over him, she tapped the Knight she’d steamrolled to the ground.
One Knight remained.
As he stood watching her, black vines shot out of the ground and encased his feet, rooting him there.
Mara circled around him, but he couldn’t turn to face her. She came up behind him and tapped the middle of his back.
There were growing whispers that the battle hadn’t been fair. That they hadn’t been warned.
Mara only smiled. “Combat isn’t about fair. Or justice. Or right and wrong. It’s about winning. In real combat, Skyla would’ve been using fireballs, flame clouds, and ice storms. Never ever under estimate a mage.”
“Good lesson,” Sir Leopold said. “Well done, both of you.”
Mara felt the High-Knight’s faded blue eyes fix on her. She met his stare, her face impassive even as her stomach clenched. Tall and broad, the only thing that belied his age was the silver in his hair and the rank insignia on his uniform.
She wondered again what he’d feel like beneath her and how hard he’d fight her for top. How much she’d relish that fight. The thought made her belly tighten.
Stabbing the thought and leaving it to bleed to death, Mara handed her practice sword back to Keenan.
She picked up her battle-worn sword and wiped the soot from her cheeks. “One hit to seven kills. See you at Ndrek’s.”
Keenan only nodded as he checked on his men.
Continued from A Knight’s Prayer Part 1.
A Knight’s Prayer
Sir Gabriel blinked then stared down at the elf wrapped in his tabard. “It’s not what you think. I didn’t-”
Leopold chuckled. “Unless you’re an elf, I know you didn’t.”
Relief loosened Sir Gabriel’s shoulders. “She couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old when I found her. I was walking along the sea as part of my rehabilitation and found her among the wreckage of a ship.”
“So you brought her back with you.” Sir Leopold bit back a smile. Sometimes the gods gave you what needed in the strangest of ways.
“I’ve been searching for her family since I found her, but I haven’t found them yet.”
“Can’t be easy taking care of a child by yourself with your duties and working on healing that leg.”
“I’ve been very fortunate. People have been willing to help. Thalia’s compassion beats strong in Tamryn.”
Sir Leopold chuckled as he watched the tall, broad-shouldered Knight gently brush a lock of hair from the little girl’s cheek. Thalia may play a part in people’s willingness to help, but he suspected the Twins had a hand in it, too.
“I brought her to Aerius at King Eli’s request.”
“King Eli?” Leopold’s brows shot up. “What does he want with a foundling elf?”
“I’m not sure, but I’m supposed to be meeting with him and Queen Auburn.”
Leopold leaned back against the pew. That meant Auburn had a vision. One strong enough and with big enough implications that Eli felt it necessary to investigate. Both interesting and terrifying. The elves were formidable but isolated.
Or they had been.
And he’d preferred it stayed that way. The fewer uncertainties the better while dealing with the eastern provinces.
“Tell me when you go meet with King Eli. I’ll come along with you. He can’t intimidate me no matter how much he tries.”
“I’m afraid he’ll tell me to send her away.” Sir Gabriel tucked his tabard around the child. “I don’t know where I’d send her. I’ve tried everything I can to find her family.”
“They may not want to be found. Elves are an odd bunch.”
“You’ve met them?”
“A few times, though none that look like this one.”
Sir Gabriel cupped her tiny hand in his. “There’s something else you should know. Her eyes aren’t human.”
“Of course they’re not. She’s an elf.”
“They seem to glow.”
“Like I said, elves are an odd bunch. Never met one that wasn’t more than twice my age, and most were a lot older than that. Maybe all of their eyes almost glow as children.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
Sir Leopold pushed himself to his feet. “Staying in the barracks while you’re here in Aerius?”
Sir Gabriel nodded.
“You’re not anymore. Get your horse. You’re gonna come stay with me, and I’ll introduce you to Marcus and Brelynn.”
The young Knight’s eyes widened. “But Sir Marcus-”
“Is a good man who’ll help Brelynn spoil Aurora. Might even catch Mara spoiling her when she thinks no one is looking.” Sir Leopold knelt before the altar to Dracor as Gabriel stared at him, whispered a prayer, then straightened. He nodded toward the young Knight. “Don’t make me make it an order.”
Sir Gabriel gathered up Aurora and cradled her against his chest as he pushed himself back to his feet without his cane.
Sir Leopold smiled. Boy had a long way to go, but the gods were on his side.
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A Knight’s Prayer
The moon hung high in the sky when Sir Leopold pushed back from his desk. He’d had plenty to keep his days full before Sir Marcus had killed the Death Knight and blown the eastern provinces wide open. Now sleep felt like a luxury.
But the people in the eastern provinces deserved the gods’ light to shine on them, deserved to tuck their kids into bed and not worry about what would come for them in the night.
Long hours in a comfortable office seemed like little to ask in comparison. And it wasn’t like anyone was waiting for him to come home at night.
Sir Leopold chuckled. Not true. Not anymore.
Sir Marcus would silently worry Leopold was working too much again, but Brelynn would openly fuss at him. Mara would stare at him with her strange amber eyes, her thoughts as inscrutable as ever. Strange lot, but they were family. Even Mara.
Despite the late hour, Sir Leopold strolled one last time through the Temple of Dracor.
The god’s power radiated through the building, filling Sir Leopold and reigniting his faith and purpose. It burned stronger tonight, more brilliant. Sucking in a deep breath, the light filled Leopold and inspired him. Fatigue melted away under Dracor’s radiance, and Leopold again thanked the god for His favor.
Finally ready to head home and take the fussing he had coming, Sir Leopold paused outside the main sanctuary. A young Knight was kneeling before Dracor’s altar.
Sir Leopold waited, but the young Knight’s rigid back and hunched shoulders told Leopold more than words could.
The fussing would wait a bit longer.
Leopold strolled down the main aisle, and as he drew closer, he noticed the heavy cane and glimpsed the young man’s profile.
Another hero of the eastern provinces, and another victim.
As Sir Leopold sat on the pew behind the young man, he noticed a tiny child wrapped in the Knight’s tabard. Her pointed ears, sharp features, and golden hair warned she wasn’t human.
Not a bastard, then. Sir Leopold had seen enough of those in his time, and he’d learned how to deal with Knights who’d made that misstep.
This was different.
Sir Leopold sat beside the sleeping child and bowed his head in prayer.
Knight Gabriel startled when he finally saw the older man.
“I’m sorry, High Knight, I didn’t hear you come in. I’m normally more observant.”
“You’re in Dracor’s temple. No need for such vigilance here, and nothing to be sorry about. Your devotion is admirable.”
The young Knight of Valor tried to push himself to standing. His face twisted in pain.
Sir Leopold didn’t offer help, knowing better after years of dealing with injured Knights.
Gabriel grabbed the cane and shoved himself to his feet. Disgust twisted over the young Knight’s features before he could lock it away.
“How are you doing?” Sir Leopold asked.
“All right. The Council has assigned me to temple duties… for the moment.”
While he healed, but he didn’t want to admit weakness, not even to a fellow Knight. That was a weakness in itself, but Sir Leopold kept that himself. “Not what I meant. Eastern provinces are a horrible place. My nephew still struggles with nightmares.”
“Sir Marcus? But he’s-”
“A good man, a strong man, but still a man.”
Sir Gabriel ran his hand through his hair and sat beside Sir Leopold. “Nightmares are crushing some nights. Only place they get better is here.”
“Time can help. Talking can help more. You ever wanna talk to Sir Marcus or another Knight that went through what you did, you let me know. There’s no shame in it. Matter of fact, talking takes a great deal more courage than burying the pain.”
Sir Gabriel stared down at his cane, and Leopold could see the memories haunting the young man. Wasn’t fair or right, but nothing about the eastern provinces was. Sir Gabriel volunteered for the horrible assignment after his mother had died. He was unmarried and had no family left to grieve for him if he died.
A selfless act, even for a Knight of Valor.
Sir Leopold laid a steadying hand on the other Knight’s shoulder. “I heard your story, but I don’t know the real horror. Talk to Marcus. If not him, talk to Matthias. There’s no shame. No judgement. But they can help.”
Sir Gabriel balled his fists at his side. “They call me a hero, but I didn’t save them. I didn’t save…”
Leopold let him catch his breath. “I know you didn’t, but for the thirty or forty families you saved, you’re a hero. Thirty or forty families that would’ve died without you.”
He squeezed Sir Gabriel’s shoulder. “You sacrificed a lot to hand Dracor a victory. And it was a victory.”
“But it was my fault. I consecrated the church. I had no idea it would bring so many ghouls.”
“And that consecrated church is a beacon of hope to that town and the surrounding lands. A place the locals go even now to escape nightmares I don’t even want to imagine. You gave them that.” Leopold nodded toward the altar. “You did what you thought was right. That’s all a man can do. Even a man in service to the gods.”
Sir Gabriel sucked in a breath as he considered Leopold’s words.
Leopold gave him a few minutes then nodded toward the sleeping child. “Who’s she?”
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In celebration, I wrote a short story in the same world as to Love a Prince. I hope you enjoy it!
Gabriel leaned on his cane as he scanned the angry ocean. Its waves rose and fell like daggers as it smashed the splinters of what had been a ship against the rocky shore.
His leg ached from his exertions, but Gabriel ignored the pain. If he still wanted to still walk in ten summers, he needed to push himself now.
Anger stabbed him, but he shoved it away. Self-pity did nothing to change his circumstances. He may no longer serve Dracor as he once had, but his mental faculties were sharp, he still rode horses, and he had his faith. The ghoul hadn’t taken everything from him.
He glanced down at his damaged leg.
But it had taken enough.
A cry whispered on the bitter wind, and Gabriel glanced at the seagulls. Their plaintive calls washed over him, and a frown pinched his brow as he heard the sound again. More insistent this time if fainter.
He’d listened to the old legends about sirens luring sailors to their deaths on these rocks, but he paid them little heed. The waters around Emerald Point were treacherous, and the number of shipwrecks had more to do with inexperienced captains than mysterious demon women.
The cry came again, and Gabriel picked his way across the rocky beach and around the shattered planks deposited by a dozen or more shipwrecks. The ever-changing tide and jagged rocks made it impossible to know if the freshly splintered boards were from an old wreck or a recent one. Not that it mattered. In the rough waters of Emerald Point, no one ever survived a shipwreck.
Yet, the cry came again. Fainter now, more plaintive.
Gabriel cursed himself. He should go home, brew himself a pot of coffee, and forget whatever creature was trying to lure him. He’d fallen into a trap once, and it had cost him his leg.
But he was a Knight of Valor. Even if he no longer served on active duty, he couldn’t ignore the cries of someone who needed his help.
Limping across the beach toward the noise, Gabriel discovered a pile of boards hidden between rocks taller than a man.
The cry came again. Louder. Sharper.
It sounded close now, most likely under the boards.
The cry of a child, scared and alone. He’d fallen for it once. He’d fall for it now. He could make no other choice.
Setting aside his cane, he swallowed back the sour taste of fear and cleared away the boards. Carefully, lest one fall and crush the babe. If there was a babe.
The crying grew more urgent as if infant, or whatever it was, realized someone was coming.
Shoving aside the last board, Gabriel discovered a tiny child swaddled in a strange iridescent fabric. Tears stained the infant’s chubby cheeks, and she had strange golden hair that glittered in the morning sun. He leaned closer to her, and she opened her eyes. They glowed an unnatural shade of green and were larger than a cat’s eyes.
Gabriel stumbled back, and his bad leg crumpled.
He sprawled into the sand, water and rocks.
He cursed as he pushed himself up to sitting and brushed off a vine of seaweed.
The child cried again, her plaintive whimpers piercing his heart.
He had no idea what she was. Maybe the offspring of the very sirens he’d dismissed. Her pointed ears whispered elven, but he’d seen plenty of elves, and none of them had eyes like that.
Using his cane, he shoved himself back to his feet.
The infant whimpered as she stared at him with her inhuman eyes.
Gabriel clutched the amulet of Dracor he wore around his neck.
He sensed no evil from the child, but she was frightened, hungry, and alone. Whatever she was, he couldn’t just leave her to be carried off my wolves or worse.
Steadying himself, he limped back over to her. While dirt, sand, and seaweed clung to him, her blanket remained both dry and unsoiled.
He frowned as he reached for her, and the press of magic pushed at his hands before dissolving. Some sort of protection bubble. He’d seen them before, but never anything powerful enough to withstand a shipwreck.
Lifting the tiny infant, he held her close. She shivered and pressed against him, nudging his chest as she searched for food.
“Sorry little one, can’t help you there.”
He stroked her glittering hair, then took his canteen from his pocket. After saying a prayer to Dracor, Gabriel offered the child the water. She drank, her tiny face screwed up as she realized it wasn’t milk, but too hungry to refuse.
After she’d drunk her fill, Gabriel took off his jacket and fashioned it into a sling. Tucking the child into it, he tied his jacket in place, holding her snug against his chest. Her strange eyes closed, and she drifted to sleep.
Gabriel hoisted himself back to his feet. Thoughts of finding a wet nurse and figuring out how to care for the strange child until he could find her parents filled his thoughts, and he barely needed his cane as he walked across the rock-strewn beach to his cottage.