Keeping to the most seclusive paths, Sir Aldren rode his mount to the west gate. No one met him in his way. Had they done so, he would not have spoken to them. His face was steel and remained immovable. The west gate was positioned on the opposite side of the city from the main gate. It was much smaller and led only to some insignificant villages outside of Rondinburg.
“Sir Aldren?” a voice blared. It was a young lad, no older than fifteen. He was standing beside the gate, a short spear planted in his hand.
Sir Aldren reigned up in front of him. His eyes fixed toward the ground.
“The city has not fallen, has it?” the lad asked.
“Then what – ?”
Sir Aldren did not lift his eyes, but his voice was stronger. “Let me past lad.”
Sir Aldren rode up to the gate.
“Where are you going?”
“Let me through. Rondinburg is done for.”
“But, Sir Aldren -“
“I will defeat the Earl! Do you hear me! I am escaping to bring vengeance!”
“Sir Aldren, you can’t do this!” The lad stood in his way.
Sir Aldren shoved the boy to the ground. His body was shaking with passion. From his belt he withdrew a set of keys. He took a glance at the lad. Eyes filled with hurt met his.
“You are supposed to defend Lady Fairwin.”
Aldren looked away. “Lady Fairwin is doomed. Rondinburg is doomed. No one could save her.” He placed the key in the lock. Breathing deeply, he turned it and swung the door open. Something made him look one last time at the lad. Those eyes were hurt, deeply hurt. He turned again to the scene before him. The Earl had left some of his troops here as a precaution. They saw him and were rallying to block his way. Let them try. He kicked his horse.
The young lad rose to his feet and stared after Sir Aldren as he charged. A stretch of soldiers blocked his path. He drove straight into the thickest of their ranks. The lad watched his sword fly like lightning. He broke through them. He had made it to freedom. A lump formed in the lad’s throat. He closed the gate and locked it. From the direction of the Fairwin palace came a trumpet call shrill as the screeching wind. It was a signal call. It beckoned. All of Rondinburg was being beckoned.
* * *
Destin braced himself for the impact. Swarms of men collided with the almost nonexistent line of Rondinburg. He heard the cry of Sestin, barely audible in the storm-like roar of battle. “Fall back! Fall back!” If the defenders had wished to disobey, they could not have done so. The men of Galldenborough literally ran them over like a stampede of cattle trampling the tall grass. Swiftly, like fallen trees carried along in a flood, the men of Rondinburg fell back, leaping from the breach and into the city. Ravenous killers pursued them. Retreat turned into flight. Destin could see the men at his side fall back as he outran them all. He could hear their cries as the warriors of Galldenborough ran them down.
Trumpet blasts guided him towards the palace. The streets were void of civilians, meaning they could only be seeking refuge in the palace for a last stand. Destin bounded up the broad steps of the palace and raced through a series of porticos. He could hear the clattering armor of his pursuers. Before him, the fading images of the last civilians disappearing through the palace entrance just caught his eye. Reaching the door, he wheeled around to face his pursuers. They stopped a short space in front of him, some fifteen of them, though thousands more were streaming in towards the palace from as far as the eye could see. Destin wondered if there was an end to them.
The foremost of the group advanced. He was a massive brute with a great two-handed sword. Rushing, he brought his sword down upon Destin. The sword nearly fell from Destin’s hand as he deflected the oncoming blow, then swung around for a counter attack. The brute caught his sword then started to lunge for a thrust, but stopped, staggered, and fell to the ground. Destin’s dagger protruded from his chest. Outraged, the others fell upon him. The opening was wide enough that three of the enemy could attack him at once, but he held his ground. The long years of practice under his master’s training shone through.
Shouts of fighting came from within the ranks of the attackers. Men before Destin were cut down and Galther and Sestin sprang through. “Two are better than one lad,” Sestin shouted.
“Where are the others?”
Sestin shook his head. “God be merciful.”
Their three swords plied together. Before them, the enemy had gathered in a mass that filled the entire portico and stretch out far beyond. Blows rained faster than hail stones. Beside him, Destin saw Galther beaten to a knee. He was too pressed himself to help. An axe came down and ended the faithful soldier. Destin shifted his position to fill the gap. Sestin bellowed from beside him. “Destin! Get inside and stand beside Lady Fairwin. I will hold these dogs myself.”
Destin parried four blades in a second. “No! I will stay with you!” The next instant, he felt Sestin’s boot slam into his side, knocking him to the ground. Passion filled Destin’s veins. He rose to his feet.
“Your duty!” Sestin thundered.
Pausing in the hallway, Destin bit his lip then obeyed. He raced down the halls, sword still in hand. No one was in sight. There was not a sound. Fear began to grip his heart. He looked everywhere for a sign of life, but found none. Reaching the throne room, he felt a surge of relief. Alone, but well, Lady Fairwin stood in the very center of the open hall. She had never appeared to him so tall, so regal, so sorrowful. In her one hand was the signal trumpet of Rondinburg and in the other she held open a trap door. Sestin had lived half his life at the palace but had never known that such a door existed. There was a desolate feel about the hall, but he could hear faint voices coming from somewhere. He paused before the trap door and looked Lady Fairwin in the face.
“Enter,” she said simply.
Half bowing to her, he descended the steps before him. The soft tread of her feet echoed behind him and the trap door closed. Above, the clatter of boots reverberated with an eerie sound and shouting came from the halls. The enemy was in the palace.