TITLE: Conspiracy Theory
AUTHOR: Jos Mous
DISCLAIMER: Most of these characters don’t belong to me, and I’m certainly not making a profit.
RATING: PG to PG-13
PAIRINGS: Lyn/Florina; Kent/Fiora
NOTE: I decided to try my hand at a little plot for a change. It did not work out as good as I’d hoped, but here it is anyway.
Lyn opened her eyes in the dark. It was a moonless night and the curtains around her bed obscured all view of the bedroom in any case, but she knew someone was there. Someone who should not have been there. She didn’t know exactly how she knew, the knowledge was simply there and she knew it to be absolutely true. It was a sense she’d developed after her parents’ demise. Moving as carefully and as soundlessly as possible, Lyn reached up to grab one of the two swords hanging over her bed. Her hand closed around the Mani Katti and, taking it off the wall, she slipped out of bed into the bedroom.
There was someone there, although he was difficult to see. He also seemed quite surprised to be suddenly faced with a naked young woman carrying a sword. It was a short moment that Lyn could easily take advantage of. In less than a second a small, but effectively sharp blackened knife clattered on the stone floor. The assassin stepped back and fled the room. Lyn broke into a mad dash after him, shouting for the guards. She chased the man through Castle Caelin’s corridors until, eventually, the assassin was closed in by Kent and the night guards coming from the other side. The man looked around madly, then fell to the floor.
Kent reached him first and quickly inspected him.
“Dead,” he said simply.
Lyn was sweating, shivering and stark naked, but right now she had more important things on her mind. “Poison?”
“I’m afraid so,” said Kent. He stood up and abruptly turned to his men. “Stop staring at our Lady and get back to your posts all of you! Carson wake the others, I want every inch of this castle guarded understand!”
The guards saluted as one, then made a hasty retreat.
“I don’t think that will necessary Kent,” Lyn said. “The attempt has already been foiled.”
“My lady, someone managed to sneak past our security,” Kent said, his voice trembling with barely controlled rage. “Clearly, we must be more vigilant.”
Lyn nodded at the body. “Look at him. Non-descript clothes, blackened knife and I don’t think you’ll find anything that could possibly identify him. This was a professional, Kent. Not even if the whole guard was exactly like you would you have been able to stop him from entering.”
Lyn raised her sword. “No nevertheless, Kent. I do not want you punishing the guards for this nor will I accept your resignation.”
Kent stiffened. “As you say, milady.”
“Get this body to the morgue, then resume your duties. We’ll talk further about this in the morning.”
Kent saluted. “Yes, milady.”
Lyn turned around and returned to her bedroom. There, she made sure to collect the fallen knife and hide it under the bed, then she put the Mani Katti back in its place before slipping under the covers.
“Lyn? What’s going on?” Florina’s sleepy voice asked.
Lyn kissed the young woman next to her. “Nothing important. Go back to sleep.”
“Good morning grandfather.”
“Good morning Lyndis, Florina.”
“Good morning Lord Hausen.”
Lyn and Florina sat down at a breakfast table already filled with food. Lyn had always felt that it was much too big for just three persons to eat from.
After everyone had eaten something, Lord Hausen broke the uncomfortable silence.
“My knight commander tells me there was an incident last night?” he said.
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” said Lyn. She sighed. She really did not want to tell her grandfather anything, but she knew he’d insist on it. “An assassin got into our bedroom last night.”
Florina’s bread slipped from her fingers. “Lyn. . .”
“I’m sorry Florina,” said Lyn.
“Now I see why Kent was so upset,” said Lord Hausen. “Any clues as to who hired him?”
“No,” said Lyn. “We can assume he is wealthy, but that’s about it. The assassin was quite professional. I fear he would have succeeded if I hadn’t woken up in time and surprised him.”
Lord Hausen raised an eyebrow. “I believe professionals are not easily surprised.”
Lyn coughed. Florina blushed.
“Some things would surprise any man, grandfather.”
“Ah. I see.”
“But. . . Lyn, who would want you dead?” Florina asked.
Lyn shook her head. “I don’t know. All my enemies are dead.”
“Marquess Laus isn’t,” said Lord Hausen.
“Erik? He’s too afraid of Ostia and Pherae,” Lyn answered. “And if he’s not, he’s too scared of Hector and Eliwood. It couldn’t have been him.”
“Marquess Araphen,” Florina said quietly.
“What?” said Lyn.
“Remember Lyn, when we were trying to get to Caelin and Araphen decided not to give you the help he promised simply because you’re Sacaen.”
Lyn snorted. “I remember. But that was a few years ago. Why would he move now?”
“Perhaps it is because you announced your engagement with Florina recently,” said Lord Hausen. “You are still half Lycian, but Florina is an Ilian. Men like Araphen do not take kindly to such things. They believe in blood. A Sacaen half-blood and an Ilian on the throne of Caelin would be horrid to them.”
“I still cannot believe it,” said Lyn. “Araphen may be happy with my untimely death, but I do not think he would try to cause it. And besides, we have no proof.”
The door to dining room opened and a guard stumbled inside. He was young, just a new recruit, and it was obvious he wasn’t quite sure how to handle himself. He saluted awkwardly.
“Lord Hausen,” he said. “Knight commander Kent would like to inform you there’s a large group of armed men outside the gate.”
“I see,” said Lord Hausen. “Do they fly Araphen’s banner?”
The guard’s mouth fell open in amazement. “How did you know? My lord. How did you know, my lord?”
Lord Hausen smiled at Florina. “An educated guess.”
Lord Hausen and Lyn rode out to meet the arrivals, flanked by Kent and Sain on their horses as well as Florina on her pegasus.
“Marquess Caelin, I bring greetings from my lord, the marquess of Araphen,” said the captain, saluting.
“I see my friend the marquess has brought quite a few greetings,” Lord Hausen remarked.
“They are to be an honour guard for the wedding ceremony,” said the captain. “My lord believed that the Caelin guard was… insufficient.”
Kent managed to put a calming hand on Sain’s shoulder before he opened his mouth.
“Marquess Araphen certainly thinks of everything, does he not?” said Lord Hausen.
“Indeed, Lord Caelin,” said the captain.
“Of course, it would always be possible to petition for an honorary guard elsewhere,” said Lord Hausen. “I am sure Pherae or even Ostia would be more than happy to attend my granddaughter’s wedding.”
“I am afraid that would be an insult to my lord Araphen and I really cannot allow it.”
“Oh yes, the last thing we would want would be to upset marquess Araphen.”
“That is the way it is, sir,” said the captain.
“In that case we should return and start making preparations for the wedding,” said Lord Hausen. “Still, may I ask what you would have said when my granddaughter did not ride out to meet you alongside me?”
The captain was quiet for several moments. Then he said, “I would have come here after hearing of a nefarious plot and would be infinitely saddened that I arrived too late. Forgive me, Lord Hausen. I have my orders.”
“As do we all,” said Lord Hausen.
The only reason Sain didn’t immediately speak after the group returned to the castle was because he couldn’t think of a term that was strong enough.
“That. . . that lout! The cad! The. . . the cur!” he cried.
“Sain, that is enough,” said Kent. “Swearing will not help us.”
“I agree, it will not,” said Sain. “Milady Lyndis, say the word and I shall smite that black-hearted fiend in your name. To think that such a man rules a Lycian canton is a disgrace to our fair nation!”
“You will do no such thing, Sain,” said Lord Hausen. He sat down in his chair. He was an old man, but now he looked older.
“Well then we must send word to Lord Hector and Lord Eliwood at once as you said,” said Sain. “They will surely send help.”
“It was a bluff,” said Kent. “Marquess Ostia cannot afford to send his troops to sort out internal struggles and Pherae’s forces are not strong enough to overcome Araphen’s, even combined with our own.”
“And even if we were strong enough, we would expose ourselves to Bern,” said Lord Hausen. “King Desmond is unloved and his people want his son Zephiel on the throne. Desmond could use a good war to unite his people behind him again and a Lycia embroiled in civil war would be a prime target.”
“What kind of man would do that?” Florina asked. “Just risk the destruction of his own country like that?”
“A blinded one,” said Lyn. “I’m sorry grandfather. I had no idea my wedding would cause all this.”
Lord Hausen smiled weakly. “That’s alright Lyndis. Sometimes I think your mother had the right idea when she eloped to Sacae. But I will see you wed one way or the other.”
“That force outside the gate will attack the moment a definite date is set,” said Lyn.
“Then we must get a greater force,” said Kent. “As you know I have frequent contact with my. . . with Fiora. She and Farina are both at the head of sizeable groups of pegasus knight mercenaries. I am certain we could enlist their services for free. Or for a reduced fee in Farina’s case. This way, perhaps, the situation would not escalate into full civil war and it would show Bern that Lycia has friends in Ilia.”
“Ilia is very far from here, Kent,” said Lord Hausen. “There may not be time.”
“There is plenty of time,” said Lyn. “It is the custom for Sacaen women who are about to wed to close themselves off from the outside world for a few months in order to pray and contemplate their place in the world.”
“I have never heard of such a custom,” said Kent.
“It does not exist,” said Lyn. “But someone like Araphen would believe it. It would give me time to go to Ilia and nobody would wonder where I am.”
“My lady, such deviousness,” said Sain. “I thought the Sacaen were always honest.”
“Believe me, I do not like spreading such a lie, but it is necessary.”
“I must object to this,” said Kent. “You cannot go alone. As your retainer, I shall accompany you.”
“As knight commander, you are needed here to prepare our forces for conflict,” said Lyn. “I am the only here who can be away for a while.”
“No you’re not,” said Florina. “I can go with you too.”
“It might be dangerous,” said Lyn.
“I’m going with you.”
Lyn nodded. “All right then.”
“Do I get any say in this?” said Lord Hausen.
“Of course grandfather.”
“Good,” he said. “You must remember that we are technically under siege and that you cannot be seen slipping out of the castle, so I suggest you leave tonight before Araphen’s troops have set up camp. I also suggest you take quite a lot of money from the treasury. You will need to buy a few good horses, as well as supplies and, of course, you will need to hire those mercenaries.”
“Thank you grandfather,” said Lyn.
“It’s a foolhardy plan, Lyndis,” said Lord Hausen. “But I pray it will work.”
Night fell and to Florina’s surprise, slipping out of castle Caelin and past the lines of Araphen’s men had been very easy. Mostly because there wasn’t a line yet. The camp was still being set up and, although a few guards hung around something that could be called the perimeter, most of it was in chaos. For Lyn, someone who sometimes had to sneak up on a herd of wild horses on a wide-open plain, sneaking past them was no problem at all. Once they reached town, they managed to wake a merchant and purchased some fine horses. When the dawn started peeking out from under the horizon, Lyn and Florina were already well on their way towards Khathelet.
“Uhm. . .” said Florina, feeling a bit silly that this was the first word spoken on their journey.
“Yes?” said Lyn.
“Uhm, when are we going to sleep? Do we ride through the day, or. . .?”
“Are you tired?” said Lyn.
“Well, not really, but after Khathelet we pass into Araphen and I wouldn’t want to be sleepy then.”
“That’s true,” said Lyn. “I suggest we find a tavern in the early evening, get some good night’s sleep and then move on at first daylight, alright?”
“OK,” said Florina. “And, uhm, what do we do if someone recognises you?”
“I don’t know,” Lyn admitted.
“Oh,” said Florina.
Lyn smiled. “Cheer up. And if someone does recognise us, we could always say we’re eloping to Sacae, eh?”
Florina gave her a look. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
Lyn looked uncomfortable. “A bit, maybe.” She sighed. “I miss Sacae, Florina.”
“But don’t worry. I’ll not abandon Caelin just yet,” she said. “By the way, how are you keeping up?”
Florina noticed the obvious change of subject, but decided not to make a fuss about it. “I’m doing fine,” she said.
“You’re not uncomfortable riding a horse instead of flying a pegasus?”
“I haven’t fallen of yet, Lyn,” said Florina.
Lyn reined in her horse and manoeuvred it next to Florina’s. She awkwardly put an arm around her and pointed.
Florina smiled. They had escaped from an army coming a from a territory they would soon have to pass through in order to hire a large force of mercenaries and possibly fight a civil war that could escalate into a global war.
But they could still take some time to watch the sun rise. It was only a moment, but during that moment, the world was a beautiful place.
Lucius looked up from his desk when he heard the bell. Of course, it was always possible that there were mere visitors, but it wasn’t a very nice night tonight. He felt rather certain that when he opened the door, he’d find the visitors already gone, except for the baby on the doorstep.
He sighed. There was nothing for it. He stood up, walked through the orphanage’s corridors , opened the front door. And was shocked into silence.
“Good day Lucius,” said Lyn pleasantly. “Or good night, I suppose.”
Lucius got a grip on himself. “Greetings my lady. Please, come in.”
The lady Lyndis went inside, followed by Florina.
“I suppose you are wondering why we are here,” Lyn said.
“Not particularly,” said Lucius. “But. . . I suppose it would have something to do with Araphen.”
“You’re right. He plans to prevent my marriage.”
“I can imagine,” said Lucius, leading the two women to his office. “So, how can I help you?”
“We’d like to stay the night here, if we could,” said Lyn. “The problem though, is that we are going to Ilia. That means we’ll have to pass through Araphen or take too large a detour.”
“I see,” said Lucius, sitting down at his desk again. “Well, I can surely let you spend the night here, but smuggling you through Araphen. . . I’m not sure I can help you with that. My orphanage cannot afford any trouble with the marquess.”
“I understand,” said Lyn.
“But we can talk further about this in the morning. For now, let me show you to your room.”
“Thank you Lucius.”
Breakfast was served in the orphanage’s great hall and Lyn and Florina had no other choice than to eat their breakfast amongst the orphans. That wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that every child looked at them curiously. Eventually, a cynical-looking scruffy young boy spoke up.
“So what’s a Sacaen and an Ilian doing in a place like this?”
“Just passing through,” said Lyn calmly.
“Do you know father Lucius?” a bright-eyed girl asked.
“Oh yes,” said Lyn. “We fought together a couple of years ago.”
“Right,” said the scruffy boy. “That must make you Lady Lyndis of Caelin then. And I suppose that makes her Florina.”
“Woah,” said a fair-haired boy. “Is it true that you single-handedly defeated old marquess Laus?”
“Not. . . completely,” said Lyn.
“Father Lucius said you and Eliwood and Hector beat Nergal with no problems at all,” said the girl.
“Yeah, because you had legendary weapons and stuff,” said the scruffy boy.
“That’s true,” said Lyn. “Although I wouldn’t say it was no problem.”
“Do you still have them?”
“No,” said Lyn. “We put them back in their place of rest after the battle. But. . . I still do have this,” she added, drawing her sword.
The Mani Katti’s gleam was reflected in the children’s eyes.
The boy who’d spoken first whistled. “Nice sword. Very ornamental.”
“Yes, it does look a bit flashy, doesn’t it?” said Lyn. “But of course, when an enemy only sees an ornamental plaything he tends to forget he’s still facing the finest, sharpest blade in all Sacae.”
The girl laughed. “You’d better hold on to it tight then or Chad here’ll pinch it.”
“Steal a sword of spirits?” said the scruffy boy. “Of course not. I’d never be able to sell it.”
“Uhm. . .” said Florina, “I don’t think Lucius would like hearing you talk like that.”
“Probably not,” said Chad unabashed. “But then, I guess he shouldn’t have told those stories about Matthew and Legault either.”
“Perhaps I shouldn’t have.”
The three children turned around as one and saw Lucius standing there, smiling serenely.
“Chad, if I could talk to you in my office please. Lady Lyndis, Florina, I believe I’ve found the solution for your little problem.”
“Oh man, not again.”
Chad urgently waved towards Lyn and Florina, signalling them to stay where they were. Not long after, two armed Araphen soldiers passed the mouth of the alley.
“OK, come on.”
Chad, Lyn and Florina slipped out of the alley and into another alley. That was one of the things Lyn had always struck as strange about the big Lycian cities – they seemed to be all alleys.
“Are there always so much soldiers around?” Florina asked.
“No,” said Chad. “Most of the time, Araphen just keeps his troops in his castle and sometimes he sends ‘em out to fight brigands in the countryside. They never patrol the streets of the city. They don’t need to.” He looked at Lyn. “Well, I guess now they need to.”
“Do you think Araphen knows we’re not in castle Caelin any more?” Florina asked.
“No,” said Lyn. “Maybe he suspects it, but. . . I guess he’s just preparing for a war that might spread to here as well.”
“I hope not,” said Chad. “This way. And keep it down will you?”
Lyn and Florina let Chad lead them through the city. They had to hide from patrols four more times when they came to a small, decrepit looking inn. After they went in, Chad confidently walked up to the innkeeper – a man who looked much more pleasant than his inn would make you think – and talked to him for a while. There was a gleam of coins changing hands and then the innkeeper nodded for Florina and Lyn to follow him.
“He’ll get you outside the walls,” said Chad. “And if all went well, Brett’ll be waiting with your horses.”
“You’re not coming?” Florina asked.
“I wouldn’t be of any use out in the countryside,” said Chad.
“Thank you for help all the same,” said Lyn. “And I’ll even let you keep the coins you stole from me.”
After Araphen, it was a quick and relatively boring trip to the border, where they passed into the Bern mountains – now entirely devoid of brigands. It seemed to Florina that with every step of the horses, the light in Lyn’s eyes started shining just a little more brightly. Her whole body seemed to come alive, unconsciously, but eagerly, reaching out beyond the horizon.
There was a small bend in the road, and a clear view in front of them. Lyn gasped audibly with longing.
The endless sky. The seas of grass.
From Florina’s viewpoint it looked as if all urgency had disappeared from their trip. They were moving along at a leisurely pace – to spare the horses, Lyn claimed, but Florina knew better. Lyn was home again for a while and she wanted to make that while as long as possible. Florina was happy for her, of course, she liked seeing Lyn look so obviously overjoyed. But she also felt a nagging jealously as if she had a competitor for Lyn’s affection. And since that competitor was an entire country, how could she possibly win?
They didn’t set up the tent that first night on the plains. Lyn wanted to feel the grass beneath her and see the stars above her. And underneath those stars, she made love to Florina, sweetly, gently, lovingly. Lyn held her afterwards, kissing her, whispering that she loved her over and over again. Florina could feel the jealousy drain from her like poison from a wound.
Sacae might’ve been in Lyn’s blood, but she was in her heart – and nothing could ever push her away from there.
Eventually, almost regretfully, Sacae made way for Ilia and the green plains were replaced with the white mountains. Ilia was quite beautiful, in a picture book kind of way, with its snow-covered trees and its snow-covered houses and its snow-covered roads and its snow-covered everything else. It was marvellous to see, but living there was a whole other matter. Since the yearly harvest was always meagre at best, Ilia relied on import for its foodstuffs and to keep its economy going, exported the one thing they had in more than adequate supply – people. Ilia’s mercenaries were the best trained, most disciplined and most loyal troops in the whole of Elibe. They had to be. If the reputation of Ilia’s mercenaries collapsed, so would the Ilian economy. And when that happened, the ever-lurking famine would come out of hiding. As a result, the mercenary agencies were always in large, respectable building where any paying foreigner could invest in hired swords and lances in comfort.
The receptionist behind the desk of one such agency visibly brightened up when he saw Florina and Lyn entering his establishment, shaking the snow off their coats.
“Florina, good to see you again.”
“Hello,” said Florina.
Lyn raised a surprised eyebrow at seeing Florina talk so apparently comfortably to a strange man. Then she realised that, obviously, Florina had also had a life before the two of them had ever even met in Sacae. Maybe this man had helped her in some way with her becoming a pegasus knight or something.
Still, it was a bit strange to see.
“Rudolf, let me introduce you to Lyn,” said Florina. “My, uhm, fiancée.”
“Lyn, eh? Well, can’t say I’m surprised,” said Rudolf. “When’s the wedding?”
“We don’t know yet,” said Florina. “We wanted to talk about it with my sisters first. Are they here?”
“You’re in luck,” said Rudolf. “Fiora’s last assignment ended a few days ago and Farina’s due back any hour, really.”
“I supposed we deserved a little luck right about now,” said Lyn.
“Is Fiora here?” Florina asked.
“She’s in the canteen.”
Fiora looked puzzled when she noticed Florina and Lyn casually walking into the canteen. Still, this did not stop her from cheerfully greeting her little sister, but when the three sat down back at Fiora’s table she became serious.
“I suppose it’s too much to hope that this is simply a friendly visit,” said Fiora.
“You’re right,” said Florina. “I’m getting married.”
“Congratulations,” said Fiora heartfelt. “When will the wedding take place?”
“We don’t know yet,” said Florina. “The marquess of Araphen is trying to prevent it. He’s sent a force to castle Caelin and we think he’ll attack once we set a date.”
Fiora’s face hardened. “I see.”
“So that’s why we’d like to hire your unit as well as Farina’s to come to Caelin’s aid,” said Florina.
“You don’t need to hire me,” said Fiora. “I offer my services for free.”
“Thank you,” said Lyn.
“We’re family. You do not charge family,” said Fiora simply. “But I must ask, the trip here to Ilia must’ve taken a month at the least. How can you be certain Araphen’s forces haven’t attacked yet?”
“I don’t think he’ll force the confrontation unless he has to. When we left, the army still claimed to be a guard of honour for the wedding. If he suddenly drops that charade, Pherae and Ostia will be forced to react and Lycia will be torn apart in the ensuing civil war,” said Lyn.
Fiora nodded. “Politics.”
“Of course,” said Lyn.
“Makes one glad to be Ilian, really,” said Fiora. “We just have to worry about famine.”
It was night. Florina stood near the window of the little room she shared with Lyn and watched the snow fall. From her earliest childhood, she could remember the snow. She’d once thought the entire world was covered in it. And if you could forget the threat it posed, she could still get lost in its beauty.
She felt Lyn’s arms snake around her waist and smiled, as she always did.
“You were suddenly gone,” Lyn whispered.
“I just. . . wanted to look outside for a while.”
Lyn put her head on Florina’s shoulder. “Glad to be home?”
Florina turned around in the embrace and looked into Lyn’s eyes, shining even more in the dark.
“I’m with you, aren’t I? So. . . I never left.”
Captain Aelric was not a happy man. He was in command of the forces laying siege to castle Caelin, but unfortunately both sides were pretending that they weren’t in a siege situation. This meant that the primary siege tactic of starving the enemy stronghold didn’t work, because he simply had to let the merchant carts through every day to keep up appearances. And that didn’t just mean that Caelin got its food, it also meant that they could smuggle out messengers and smuggle in additional troops. For all Aelric knew, the castle could be stuffed with reinforcements from Pherae and, worse, Ostia.
Aelric had the distinct impression that lord Hausen was stalling. Yes, there was the whole Sacaen pre-marital ritual and that might have been true, but did that really last a few months?
He wanted to get it over with. He just wanted to go home. He didn’t care that a Sacaen might become a Lycian marquess. From what he heard, Sacaens were intensely honest, so having one rule a Lycian canton might be a refreshing change.
But he had his orders and he was going to follow them. He had made an oath, after all, and if he broke it, what would he be then?
Sergeant Kranz entered the tent and saluted awkwardly.
“I think you ought to come out and see this.”
It was a nice sunny day outside, which meant that Aelric could plainly see the pegasi flying towards him.
“Elemine preserve us,” Aelric muttered. “Sergeant, how many archers do we have?”
“Not that many, sir,” the sergeant answered.
“I was afraid of that. Have you raised the alarm?”
“The men are prepared, sir, just in case.”
Captain Aelric adjusted his cloak and sword belt and went towards the landing pegasi. In the lead were two young women, one with short dark blue hair, one with long turquoise hair. They appeared to be the ones in charge, which wasn’t a good thing. Only the finest pegasus knights got the command of a unit, and if these had achieved the command at such a relatively young age, well. . .
“Greetings,” said the dark blue-haired one. “Are you in command of this fine little unit?”
“I’m captain Aelric,” said Aelric. “And you are?”
“Commander Farina. And this is my sister, commander Fiora.”
The turquoise-haired one nodded politely.
“I see,” said captain Aelric. “And the purpose of your visit?”
“Well you know, our little sis is getting married, so we thought we’d come over and provide a proper honour guard, you know,” said Farina.
“I am happy to inform you that we will already be the guards of honour at the wedding,” said captain Aelric.
“For Lady Lyndis of Caelin, certainly,” said Farina. “But not for Florina of Ilia, am I right? Besides, you have a fine body of men, we have a fine body of women. What could be more appropriate for a wedding?”
“I assume I cannot persuade you to leave?” said captain Aelric.
“No,” said Farina. “Unless you’re prepared to do a lot of persuading.”
“I thought as much.” Aelric smiled weakly. “Well then, welcome to castle Caelin.”
Lord Hausen sat regally on his throne, his knight commander Kent his second in command Sain next to him. It was a bit silly, perhaps, but some things needed to be done properly. He’d been quietly overjoyed to learn that the soldiers up on the battlements had seen the pegasi approaching. But he was also worried that the very fragile status quo wasn’t going to last much longer.
The doors opened and two pegasus knights entered. One he recognised as Fiora, since she occasionally visited Caelin to see Kent. The other he assumed must be Farina, who didn’t look nearly as disciplined as her older sister. Not long after them came Florina and Lyn, both dressed in light pegasus knight armour.
Lord Hausen stood up from his throne and met his granddaughter halfway the chamber.
“I’m happy to see you are fine,” said Lord Hausen.
“And I’m glad to see you are still safe as well,” said Lyn.
“For the moment, at least,” said Lord Hausen, walking back to his throne.
He noticed that Kent had left his position and was having a whispered talk with Fiora. He decided not to make a point out of it.
“And I hear you brought some company along with you.”
“That’s right,” said Farina, trailing behind. “The finest two units of pegasus knights you’ve ever seen.”
“Did you talk to the captain of Araphen?”
“I did. He wasn’t happy,” said Farina.
“I can imagine. What do you think he will do?”
“I don’t know,” said Farina.
“He will probably attack,” said Sain. “After all, what else can he do?”
“His forces are now outnumbered, and he has little defences against airborne attack,” said Lyn. “Only a fool would attack now. I think he will ask for reinforcements.”
“And if he does that, all pretence will fall away,” said Lord Hausen. “And then we will be able to strike first.” He sighed. “It seems like we have won. So why am I not particularly happy right now?”
“Perhaps because the whole thing is folly in the first place,” said Lyn.
“Ah yes. That could be it.”
“Hmm? Yes, Kent?”
Kent, standing rather closely next to Fiora, looked briefly uncomfortable. “I wonder if my lord requires anything else from me?”
Lord Hausen smiled. “Not at the moment, Kent. You may go.”
Kent and Fiora silently left the throne room. At one point, just barely noticeable, Fiora’s arm moved slightly as if she reached out towards Kent. And then, moving just as slightly, it looked as if Kent took her hand.
Farina winked, and nudged Florina. “Hey, think we can make that wedding of yours a double one? It’ll save money.”
The marquess of Caelin smiled weakly. “And now I suppose all we have to do is wait for my spies to report a large unit of archers moving from Araphen to here.”
The report came. The castle prepared. The courtyard, otherwise a wide open space, was now filled with winged horses. Lyn surveyed them, and saw that it was unfortunately good. The women of both units acted with an air of determined professionalism and their pegasi were not much different.
Lyn looked up at Fiora, who’d pulled up next to her on her pegasus.
“Fiora. I see you are all ready.”
“Indeed we are,” she said. “And I am confident we shall win today. But I must ask, what will happen afterwards?”
“Afterwards?” said Lyn. “That depends on Araphen. Either he will accept his loss and we will all pretend nothing ever happened or he will send the rest of his army and the civil war will happen after all.”
“And you will still go through with it? You will risk civil war just to marry my little sister?”
“Yes,” said Lyn. “She’s worth it.”
Fiora was silent for a while. “You are Sacaen, aren’t you? Very well. But you had better treat my sister right, or you aren’t worth it.”
Lyn observed the battle from atop the battlements. It was not much of one. Fiora’s pegasus knights went after and quickly eliminated the few Araphen archers and Farina’s unit managed to very effectively split the enemy army and cause a great deal of chaos within their ranks. Then the gates of the castle opened and Kent charged at the head of Caelin’s knights and it was all over.
It wasn’t a battle.
It was slaughter.
Or would have been, at least, if the Araphen captain hadn’t realised the hopelessness of his situation and surrendered before too much blood was spilt.
Lyn turned away.
Lyn felt nervous and out of place. She was surrounded by Lycians and Ilians in formal clothing and armour and she was the only one wearing traditional Sacaen dress. To his credit, though, Lord Hausen had tried to give his own ceremonial garb a few Sacaen touches and while Lyn appreciated the sentiment, it nevertheless looked rather silly.
Lyn looked at the priest, who smiled reassuringly at her. He probably had a great deal of experience with nervous grooms and even though most of them had been men, there probably wasn’t that much of difference.
The music changed. Lyn looked around and felt her heart melt.
It had been worth it.
Lyn knew, now, that she would have given anything for this moment. To see Florina walk towards her like this, so happy, so radiant, so heartbreakingly beautiful. Lyn couldn’t stop looking at her. She was aware that people would think it strange that she wasn’t looking at the priest like she was supposed to. Or she would have been, if she’d been aware that there were people or a priest. But there were no people, there was no priest. The world did not exist. There was only Florina.
Some little sliver of thought realised that some kind of wedding ceremony was taking place. There was some kind of preach, at least, and somehow vows were exchanged.
But even that little sliver was lost in devotion when Florina kissed her.
“We kept our promise, didn’t we?” Florina whispered, her voice filling the universe. “We really will stick together no matter what happens. Now. . . and always.”