DargonZine 13, Issue 3

A Matter of Honour Part 2



This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series A Matter of Honour

A cold wind howled like some enraged banshee outside the walls of Fennell Keep. Aleksandr added another log to keep the fire blazing in the hearth in the main hall. A great bearskin covered the icy stones beneath his feet, but he could still feel cold radiating up from the ground. Indeed, the stone in the castle seemed to soak up the cold, and pass it on to every being within. Perched atop the hill that held the city of Fennell, the keep received the full brunt of the frigid winds that swept in from the northeast. The dense forest that was the barony’s saving grace during the winters was ineffectual here. The keep didn’t even have the benefit of shelter from surrounding buildings. But on a day like this, it was still better than being outside, Aleksandr supposed. In a way it was good, as the winds were too cold to allow outdoor training this day. In the two years he had lived at the keep, he had learned to appreciate such small comforts.

 

“Aleksandr!” A deep voice intoned from across the hall.

 

Aleksandr turned to see his weapons instructor and most direct superior, Sir Igrim, approaching him from across the room. His powerful figure dominated the fire-lit room. Long, dark hair hung thickly from his head, as did a grey-streaked beard and moustaches. On his broad shoulders hung a black tunic bearing his family crest. Aleksandr of course, being only the humble rank of page, wore no coat of arms. Rather, he was dressed in a plain grey tunic with black belt and breeches.

 

“Come here, boy!” Sir Igrim’s words were harsh, but Aleksandr was not afraid of him. He remembered many a training session with the quarterstaff when Sir Igrim would berate him for letting his guard down, that such a lapse would mean his death some day. Afterwards, he would always tell Aleksandr when they were alone that he was pleased with his progress, or offer other such words of encouragement. Nevertheless, Aleksandr scurried over to the knight without delay.

 

“Sir?”

 

“Keeping the fire stoked I see.” Sir Igrim never seemed to be the slightest bit affected by the cold. “Good. The baron has some guests coming this eve. Fetch a *good* bottle of Solov’necr from the cellars, then get yourself to the kitchens! Pots and pans will be your weapons today. Now, be off with you!”

 

“Yes, sir!”

 

Aleksandr hurried off down the hallway. The long corridors along the outer edge of the bailey were the coldest in the inner keep, as chill winds sneaked through the wooden boards covering the portholes that looked out on the courtyard. Fortunately, the cellars weren’t far. Aleksandr closed the heavy wooden door behind him to block the wind, enabling him to light a torch from the pile sitting in a niche by the door.

 

He descended the stairs into the darkness of the cellars, where a wide variety of stores that the keep needed to last out the winter were stored. The light thrown by the torch illuminated smoked sausages and meats that hung from wooden pegs along one frosty wall. Barrels of pickled vegetables, salted pork and spices filled one corner of the room. Hundreds of pounds of flour lay in large sacks piled in another corner. More kegs of wine and mead filled other parts of the cellar. Aleksandr headed to the very back of the room where the finer vintages of wine rested on large racks. Behind these were more racks bearing the hard liquor. The stuff he sought was hidden in the furthest corner, in case a questionable servant might want to pinch a bottle. To Aleksandr’s knowledge, such a thing had never happened, and he resented the fact that they lay in the coldest corner to defend against it.

 

Solov’necr was the favoured drink in the Barony of Fennell. Made from fermented iechyd berries, it was a potent drink that warmed one to the core during the cold winter months. Aleksandr surveyed the available bottles, and chose one of the larger looking ones. The coldness of the bottle shocked him, and when it bit into his hand he accidentally dropped the frigid carafe. Instinctively, he grabbed for it with both hands, dropping the torch as he did so. He caught the bottle before it smashed all over the floor, but the dropped torch made trouble of its own: one of the older bottles had been leaking it seemed, and its contents ignited immediately when touched by the torch’s flames.

 

Aleksandr had to think quickly, as the fire was spreading. Currently only the puddle of Solov’necr burned, but he knew that wouldn’t be the case for long. He carefully put the bottle he was holding on a nearby barrel, and hurried over to the stack of flour. Grabbing one bag, he dragged it over to the fire. Summoning what strength his little body had, he tossed the thing atop the fire, and was plunged into darkness.

 

“Cephas’ boot!” He cursed. “Now what?”

 

There were no windows in the underground cellar. It was so dark Aleksandr couldn’t see one cubit in front of his nose. It was chillingly cold in the room, and quiet. The dark frightened Aleksandr. Who knew what evil creatures lurked in there? His mind conjured up images of the Wasp King and other horrible monsters creeping out of the corner to peel his skin off and eat it. He wanted to run screaming out of the room, but knew he would only cause further disaster if he did. Countless glass bottles containing valuable liquids, made all the more fragile by the cold that surrounded him on all sides.

 

By slowly and carefully reaching out with his hands, Aleksandr was able to reacquire the Solov’necr he had been sent for. Nearly knocking several other bottles off of their shelves in the process gave him reason to move no further. He didn’t know how long he had been standing there, shivering from both cold and fright, when he heard the door at the top of the stair creak open. He was too far away to see the faint grey light that filtered through the doorway, nor hear who it was that had entered.

 

He was about to call out, then checked himself. “What an idiot they’ll think of me for trapping myself down here without a light. No … I’ll sneak out when they’re not looking and no one will know.”

 

Presently, the warm glow of torchlight emerged from the stairwell and illuminated the room enough for Aleksandr to begin creeping around the outer edge of the room. He could hear voices as he drew nearer the torchlight. They seemed to be hovering not far from the stairs.

 

“What in blazes are we doing down here, Kelbhen?”

 

Hiding behind a barrel, Aleksandr risked a glance at the people who had invaded the cellars. The one who had spoken he recognised as Sir Miripur by his deeply pocked face and slim frame. His greasy black hair hung limply about his pox-scarred face, and his tabard hung loosely from his bony shoulder. Standing next to him holding the torch, in stark contrast, was Sir Kalayan, a barrel-chested man who seemed to bristle hair everywhere. His reddish-brown beard puffed out from his face in all directions, as did the curly hair on his head. He was nearly as wide as he was tall, his arms and legs like tree-trunks. Excitement welled up when Aleksandr saw the third member of the group. It was Jarek Kelbhen, the foreign mercenary, captain of the guards, and his idol. Aleksandr remembered being slightly disappointed the first time he met Sir Jarek. He was not the towering figure he had imagined. He was of average height and build. Aleksandr quickly learned that his prowess on the battlefield came from skill rather than brute strength. He had a certain charisma as well. Aleksandr had never heard an ill word said of the knight by any of the guards under him and especially not from the maidservants that worked around the keep. His olive skin and raven black hair gave him away as a foreigner, but still he had a certain presence that drew people to him.

 

“What we are doing here, Miripur,” Sir Jarek stroked his goatee, “Is making my wedding arrangements.”

 

“Then Fennell agreed?” Sir Kalayan’s head snapped sharply to look at the other.

 

“Quite the contrary, my friend.” Sir Jarek’s lips curled into a smile. “But I shall have my way nevertheless.”

 

“How?” Sir Miripur gestured to the room above them. “If the baron has denied you, then that’s all there is to it. You can’t just take her!”

 

What *were* they talking about? Whatever it was, it sounded bad. Aleksandr made sure to keep very still and hidden behind the barrels. He now had more reason than pride to remain unnoticed. Though he didn’t yet know what they were plotting, he was sure they wouldn’t be pleased if they discovered him.

 

“Who says I can’t?” Aleksandr could hear Sir Jarek’s footsteps moving closer. “Tell me, Miripur. Have you heard of the practice of marriage by conquest?”

 

Sir Miripur let out a chuckle. “You rogue.”

 

Aleksandr was not surprised by such a comment from Sir Miripur. In fact, the man was barely worthy of the title he bore in Aleksandr’s mind. The knight often found sport in beating a squire that had not performed his duties to a high enough standard, or in tormenting monks from the monastery with insults he knew they would not return. Aleksandr had even heard rumors about Sir Miripur mistreating the ladies in waiting, forcing one of them into his bed.

 

“Zhilinda will by a fine conquest.” Kalayan said knowingly.

 

“Baron Fennell thinks his daughter too good for me, a foreigner, I suppose.”

 

That wasn’t true! Aleksandr finally knew what the knights were discussing, and it appalled him. Everyone knew Zhilinda had been betrothed to Baron Delborne’s son, Kristofer, for years. She was still quite young, being only thirteen; otherwise she would be married now, and in Delborne. But these were knights! Where was their honour? Were they not sworn to protect all women?

 

Sir Jarek slammed a fist down on a barrel not far from the hiding page. “I did not get to where I am by bowing to unworthy masters! He will soon learn some respect. He will have no choice but to give me my due when I am his son-in-law!”

 

Kalayan gave a hearty laugh, but Miripur remained sober. “Can it be done?”

 

“Of course it can be done!” Sir Jarek’s voice could be heard moving back towards the others. “We’ve travelled the length and breadth of this land, our swords slaying the enemies of the gold that bought us. Fought the traitrous House Northfield, and sowed the soil of Fennell red with their blood. Making this girl my wife will be but a simpleton’s game compared to that.”

 

Aleksandr stole another glance to see Sir Miripur cautiously watching the stairwell. “How?”

 

“It’s quite simple, really. We *are* the baron’s trusted guards, are we not?” Sir Jarek said. “It is but a matter of moving. We will wait a sennight, I think, to allow the baron to forget my most recent request for the young Zhilinda’s hand. Seven nights from now, we will take her from her chambers when I order the changing of the guards at the fifth bell of night. Getting to her room will be not a problem, but getting her out will take some care. You’ll be able to make it as far as the weaving room without being noticed. There’s an unused door behind one of the tapestries in there that opens into one of the servants’ passages. Follow it to the servants’ entrance on the north side of the keep. I will meet you there, and we will make haste to the stables.”

 

“Where will we take her?” Kalayan’s deep voice intoned.

 

“I think just outside of the city, into the forest a little ways. Only a couple bells’ ride from here lives a wealthy merchant named Billik. He’s made his fortune as a moneylender, and has a winter residence in the forest away from the commotion of Fennell. I think such accommodations would be suitable for my ascendance into Baranur nobility, no?”

 

“How and where do we find this Billik?” Miripur asked.

 

“It’s simple. There’s a spot along the road to Heahun where a little stream runs. You’ll know it when you see it. Five mene’s ride further, a small trail breaks off the road to the north. Billik’s house lies at the end of that trail.”

 

“It’s almost *too* easy.” Miripur said.

 

“Fear not, my friend.” Sir Jarek assured, “It will work. Now come, we must be away from this cellar before we are missed. Remember, one sennight from today. Until then, not a word. Not even to each other.”

 

With that, the group ascended the stairs, once again plunging the cellar into darkness, where Aleksandr remained for several long menes. He wasn’t even sure that he heard what he thought he had. Surely, he must have misunderstood what the knights had said. They couldn’t possibly have been plotting to kidnap the baron’s daughter. Sir Jarek was his idol: the personification of everything knightly. Even if Aleksandr had understood, how could he destroy the man he sought to become? But then he remembered what his father had said about Sir Jarek on the day he left Heahun.

 

“He is a robber knight. Not a noble like us!” Father had been right then, and he was right now. Sir Jarek Kelbhen was not a true knight; not a true idol. There was no denying it. They would take the girl one sennight hence, and Sir Jarek would marry her by force. Aleksandr shuddered at the thought. He couldn’t let such a thing happen. It was an offence against Stevene and against the baron! Against all who bore the title of ‘knight’. But what could he do? He knew that he was but a boy. Who would listen to him?

 

***

 

“He is a robber knight. Not a noble like us!”

 

His father’s words repeated themselves over and over in Aleksandr’s head. What to do? The question still tormented him as he waited on Baron Dorja’s guests that evening.

 

“If only I were a knight!” he thought. “Then I could challenge Sir Jarek to a duel, and save Zhilinda! Those who follow Stevene’s light always win their battles!” But he was only a page, of course — not even a squire yet, by Cephas!

 

Aleksandr wandered about the room, filling goblets with the bottle of Solov’necr that had led to the boy’s state of affairs. He didn’t pay much attention to the guests, as they couldn’t possibly interest him with this dilemma rolling about his head. All he knew was that there were two of them, and that they liked the Solov’necr quite a bit. Which meant they’d probably stay the night. At least staying busy kept him from going crazy.

 

It was a quiet little gathering, and Aleksandr was presently excused to do as he pleased. Of course, he had to stay in the general area as he might be needed again. In the main hall of the keep, several sets of King’s Key held permanent residence. Once a sennight, on the holy day, Aleksandr would meet Lev to play a game or two. The two had won roughly the same amount of games each, but Aleksandr had pulled several victories off in the past month, and wished to press the advantage by keeping his skills sharp. Such was his zeal for the game that he had far surpassed the other pages in skill level. Sir Igrim’s squire, Tpliki, was a very challenging opponent, however. As the squires were not required to wait on guests, as the pages were, he was free to partake in the recreational activities available in the keep. Once he was dismissed, Aleksandr would often search out the older boy and challenge him to a game.

 

“So, you’re ready for another thrashing, eh carrot-head?” the squire taunted when approached by Aleksandr.

 

“I wouldn’t be so cocky if I were you,” the younger boy said, setting pieces on the board. “Remember last time?”

 

Aleksandr had almost won their last encounter. “I’ve been practising.”

 

“So have I.” Aleksandr sat across from the other. “Ready?”

 

The game moved at a good pace, both of the boys employing a rather aggressive style of play, much faster than when Aleksandr confronted the methodical monk Lev. Aleksandr’s favourite piece was the horseman, whose abilities he’d mastered. He always pictured himself as the very cavalier he moved about the board, bravely charging to battle in the name of good. Tpliki knew this however, and his first objective was to remove those pieces from the game, leaving Aleksandr in a tight and unfamiliar spot. He tried to employ other pieces, initially to no avail. It appeared that Tpliki was going to dominate the rest of the game, when Aleksandr was able to pull off a series of moves utilising his priests, turning the tables on the other boy. Tpliki eventually won the game, but Aleksandr had realised something important. Using his horsemen to their maximum potential was the attack he always used when playing King’s Key, but when they were taken from him he had to employ a strategy that was less than obvious at first.

 

“I don’t have to stop Sir Jarek myself!” he thought. “There *is* someone who will listen to me, and bring justice to Fennell!”

 

Aleksandr bade his time with patience uncommon for a nine year-old boy. After helping the guests to the rooms reserved for such purposes, and cleaning and sweeping the main hall, Aleksandr sought out Sir Igrim. Tpliki was thankfully still about, and aware of his master’s whereabouts, as Aleksandr knew any good squire should be. He directed Aleksandr to the knight’s living quarters.

 

The living quarters were very similar throughout the keep, save those belonging to the baron and his family. Like the others, Sir Igrim’s was a single room with a fireplace along one wall, and a window on another. It being winter, the window had its shutters closed tightly. Sir Igrim had not lit the fire however, and was cleaning a dagger by the light of a candle. The somewhat chilly room was as impressive to Aleksandr as its inhabitant was, however. On one wall hung a tapestry portraying a battle from the Shadow Wars that had taken place during the reign of King Darian, that Sir Igrim had been given as a gift. On the floor lay the skin of a bear, which the knight had killed personally. The sword that he carried with him at all times rested on the bed, a cleaning rag and sharpening stone nearby. He didn’t trust anyone with his weapons, not even Tpliki. Above the fireplace rested a crossed sword and axe.

 

As Aleksandr entered the room, Sir Igrim shifted slightly in his chair to appraise the boy.

 

“Aleksandr!” he rumbled. “What are you doing up here, boy? You should have been in bed almost a bell ago!”

 

“I’m sorry, Sir Igrim.” Aleksandr kept his eyes on the floor. “But there’s something I have to tell you … that can’t wait until morning.”

 

“Oh?” Sir Igrim put the blade down that he was polishing, and turned to face the boy fully.

 

Aleksandr could feel his courage leaving him so he blurted the entire story out to the elder knight. True to his nature, Sir Igrim appeared totally unperturbed as the young page described the disrespect with which Sir Jarek and the others had spoken about the baron and his daughter. Even when he explained the plan to gain Zhilinda’s hand ‘by conquest’, the knight remained emotionless. When the tale was complete, he gave Aleksandr a long, hard look.

 

“What have I told to about spinning tales, boy?” His heavy eyebrows moved fractionally into a frown.

 

“Sir …” Aleksandr could feel panic welling up inside of him. Sir Igrim thought he was lying! “Sir, a knight does not lie … he is honest always and with all people.”

 

“Exactly.” Sir Igrim face grew darker. “And are you being honest with *me*?”

 

“I am, Sir Igrim!” Aleksandr trembled. “I swear as if Stevene were here in front of me!”

 

It seemed an eternity before the knight spoke again. “A strong oath. If you be made of the stuff worthy of a knight such an oath will prove it. I will take your … tale, to the baron. He will judge. And if he judge that you are not being entirely truthful …”

 

The threat didn’t need to be finished. Aleksandr knew well that the punishment for dishonesty was harsh, as was the punishment for breaking any of the knightly code upheld throughout Baranur. But Aleksandr had hope. If Sir Igrim was taking the story to the baron, he at least suspected a grain of truth in it. Also, Aleksandr *was* telling the truth. Surely, Stevene would guide the baron’s heart to that conclusion. “Stevene favours the just,” he thought.

 

Sir Igrim placed a leathery hand on Aleksandr’s shoulder. “You will speak of this to no one.”

 

Aleksandr shook his head vigorously. “No, sir.”

 

“Be off with you, then.”

 

Aleksandr left the room, Sir Igrim closing the heavy wooden door behind him. Aleksandr headed down the hallway towards the large room that the pages lived in, still a little shaky from his encounter with Sir Igrim. It was very dark, now that most everyone had gone to bed, and only every third torch remained burning for the guards to make their rounds. Aleksandr shuddered at the thought that Sir Jarek, Sir Miripur, and Sir Kalayan were among them. Just as he turned a corner, he heard the faint sound of Sir Igrim’s door opening, and footsteps moving quickly from it in the direction of the baron’s quarters.

 

***

 

Baron Dorja’s answer came sooner than Aleksandr expected. It was only the day after he had told Sir Igrim about the kidnapping plot, when the knight pulled him aside from his grammar studies with Brother Vladimir. Aleksandr knew when he looked into Sir Igrim’s eyes that the answer wasn’t a good one.

 

“Baron Dorja the Just has considered what you said carefully.” His eyes seemed to smoulder with anger. “Considering the services Sir Jarek has rendered Fennell in the past, he has judged him innocent. And your tale less than truthful!”

 

Aleksandr gulped, but could say nothing in his defence.

 

“By rights I should give you a good thrashing for telling such tales!” He was clearly quite upset with his pupil, but no hand was raised. In fact, his hard features suddenly softened. “But your intentions were good. You may well have heard something, but your imagination created what you told me. Therefore, your only punishment shall be extra duties. Hopefully that will teach you to keep your mind free of such flights of fancy. You may begin by mucking out the stables after your lesson with Brother Vladimir.”

 

Aleksandr would have bemoaned his extra duties, were he not so distraught over the news he had just received. As he shuffled back to his desk and slate among the other pages, worried thoughts ran through his mind. “The baron didn’t believe me! How? Why? Was it just my imagination?”

 

“He is a robber knight. Not a noble like us!”

 

“No! I wasn’t imagining it!” Aleksandr thought. “He *is* going to kidnap Zhilinda! Cephas’ boot! What now? I can’t let him take her!”

 

***

 

As was the custom in the Barony of Fennell, the fifth day of the sennight was declared a day of worship for all Stevenics in the barony. Lev’s friend Aleksandr had been given the day off from training and, as usual, made the short journey to Heart’s Hope Monastery just outside Fennell Keep’s outer walls, to visit him. Aleksandr had of course attended worship in the keep’s chapel, at the first bell of day, with all of the other residents of the keep, while Lev had celebrated with his brothers. After the service, Aleksandr had made his way to the monastery.

 

Heart’s Hope Monastery had been Lev’s home for just over two years, living with the Stevenic sect of Cyruzhian monks. He was, of course, still far too young to join the sect as a brother, but they treated him as such, and taught him all of their ways. Very different from many groups that followed Stevene’s light, they were named after Cyruz of Vidin, a close follower of Cephas Stevene and missionary. The order had come into existence with an unconditional grant of land to Cyruz from the Baron of Fennell some fifty years previous. Heart’s Hope Monastery was the first of many that soon dotted the countryside of Fennell. Centrally located in cities, the Cyruzhians were both scholarly and disciplined; their business was social and pastoral work, as well as education. They were effective preachers from the “common touch” as Cyruz liked to say, and knowledgeable. When they weren’t caring for the sick and homeless, they created elegant religious icons and exquisitely beautiful books. The tomes were so valued by the monks that they were chained to their bookcases by metal rods built into the binding. As Lev had always loved reading, the monastery’s scriptorium was his favourite room in the entire community. That the Cyruzhians eagerly accepted anyone attracted many peasants with unpromising futures to join. This despite the fact that unlike the vast majority of Stevenic groups, the order took strict vows of celibacy and poverty.

 

Lev had always been exceptionally intelligent, far above his station in life as a peasant and son of a woodcutter. As Aleksandr’s playmate he had devoured all of the scrolls and religious texts in the Heahun household. He had been taught how to read by Aleksandr’s compassionate mother, who had claimed to see a bright future in him as a servant of God. The local church had been another source of learning with its handful of religious scrolls. It soon came time when there was no more room for intellectual growth in Heahun. It was then that Lev’s parents decided he would join the Cyruzhians. As well as an avid learner, Lev had always been very religious. He loved discussing theology with the priest in Heahun, and the texts of Stevene’s light spoke to him as they did to few others. It was not only priests he spoke with, but God as well. He never heard voices or had visions, but he was aware of a deep communication with a higher being. Sitting alone, near a gently flowing stream or quiet forest, he would have long conversations with his creator. He was never answered in words, but he found his mind was always directed towards an answer to his questions. Often answers that he would have never thought of on his own.

 

And so, the Cyruzhian monastery seemed the appropriate place for him. Despite this, he was initially less than enthusiastic about his parents’ decision, and asked them to consider another sect with a less severe code than the Cyruzhians. They had made up their minds, though, and he was going. With no hope in changing their minds, he had resigned himself to the Cyruzhians. He had contemplated what life would be like with them. The thought of marriage had never particularly appealed to him, and the idea of a wealthy cleric was appalling. In the end, he decided that if he were to dedicate his life to God and to Stevene’s light, he would devote all of it. Since then, he had been able to expand both his mind and his soul beyond his expectations with the Cyruzhian monks.

 

As he and his friend sat at the simple wooden table in the common room of the monastery, cool white rays from the sun shone through the cracks in the boards covering the window slits that lined the outside wall. Outside, the courtyard where the boys usually visited was covered with a thick blanket of snow. In the summer it was a truly beautiful place, its gardens carefully tended by the monks.

 

The boys were alone in the room. Lev quietly surveyed the King’s Key game that they were playing. Aleksandr sat restlessly across from him, obviously disturbed by something.

 

Lev moved a piece and looked up to Aleksandr. “Something’s bothering you, my friend. What is it?”

 

“Something terrible is going to happen.”

 

Lev felt concern grow within him. It was unlike his friend to exaggerate on a matter of such importance. “Aleksandr?”

 

The young page related an appalling tale, of Sir Jarek and his plot to kidnap Baron Dorja’s daughter, and of the disbelief of Sir Igrim and the baron when Aleksandr told them of the plot. “… and I don’t know what to do now.”

 

Lev sat in silence for several menes. Indeed it was a desperate situation, for both of them now that he knew of it. “What does your heart tell you?”

 

Aleksandr seemed taken aback by the comment. Lev had always known him as one to think with his head, a tactician as a knight should be. But the mind couldn’t answer every question. Lev was sure his friend’s mind said he’d done all that could be done. But Lev knew there was a small voice near the back that said there was more. He listened to that voice often, and prayed it would lead Aleksandr as it lead him.

 

“By Stevene! I have to try to stop them myself! If no one will listen, I *have* to try! I cannot have a clear conscience by retreating from glory!” He looked hard into Lev’s eyes. “You will help me.”

 

Lev felt slightly sick at the idea. Two children against hardened mercenaries? But there was no alternative. “If all else has been exhausted, we have to take matters into our own hands. Stevene’s light commands it.”

 

Aleksandr reached across the table to grasp Lev’s hand. “Like the knights’ charge at Balkura! It is better to die for a cause than to surrender it, and our cause is the defence of the Stevene’s laws!”

 

Lev was not taken by Aleksandr’s sudden burst of enthusiasm, but knew the boy to be speaking the truth. The knights’ charge at Balkura was less than an appetising thought however; a glorious battle it had been, but at great cost. The confrontation had taken place not far from Fennell, during the Great Houses War. There, the brave Fennell knights had confronted a force loyal to the insurrectionist House Northfield nearly one thousand strong. No fewer than fifty Fennell knights, nearly all of the noble sons of Fennell, had died in the battle. In an act of uncommon valour, the knights had charged, taking the rebels by surprise. All of the knights had died, but took more than half of the traitors to the crown with them, halting the advance and ultimately saving the barony from certain defeat. Though he knew he would go to a better place than this upon death, Lev was not so eager to become a martyr.

 

“We cannot just charge them as did the brave cavaliers at Balkura, my friend.”

 

“No.” Aleksandr’s face was a little red from excitement as he settled back into his chair.

 

“One must be pragmatic. We are only boys after all.” Lev steepled his fingers before him in a meditation position. It helped him think. “Though I know direct attack has always been your way, this will call for subtlety.”

 

Lev couldn’t hide the hint of a smirk from his friend as he remembered their many games back in Heahun. Yes, Aleksandr had won many of them by brute force, but Lev had won more by intelligence.

 

“What do you have in mind?”

 

“Well, if I recall from your endless prattle about your hero Sir Jarek,” Aleksandr shot him a dirty look, “He comes from far south, does he not?”

 

“Yes. He’s not even from Baranur.”

 

“Exactly. There is something we have in Baranur that they don’t in the warmer climes where Sir Jarek hails from. Winter. And with winter comes ice. Did you not say their route runs near a stream?”

 

“Yes, it does!” Aleksandr touched a hand to his cheek. “Right near the holy rocks where we became brothers.”

 

“Which is perfect for my plan …”

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