Sworn to Serve is an Erien setting story and continues on from last week's post - His Boots.
Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Daz3d, Photoshop and Filter Forge.
This isn’t what I signed up for. Selena closed her eyes for a moment, gathering her thoughts before she smiled, opened them again and took hold of her brother’s arm. “Have faith in yourself, brother. If you can’t have faith in yourself, have it in me. I won’t let you do this on your own and I won’t let them tear me from your side.”
“I know that, Selena, and I’m grateful for that, for everything you’ve done to help me, to support me through this. You lost a father too and yet you’ve put all of that to one side in order to support me.”
A promise made, one she would always keep, no matter the cost. “We’ve kept them waiting far too long as it is, let’s get this over and done with and then we can deal with the rest of the problems.” Problems that began and ended with Veren. She sighed, nibbled on her bottom lip and did her best to portray the expected image, that of the concerned younger sister, unsettled and still grieving over the loss of her father. It wasn’t that she didn’t grieve, far from it. Like Richard she’d loved their father, but channeling that grief and all of the emotions that came with it, was the logical thing to do, at least as far as Selena was concerned.
“I should assign you a body guard, at least until we know what’s going on and who is behind it.”
Selena smiled. “Oh Richard, you can be so over protective at times. I’m not at risk, I’m not in the line of succession.” Unless you die. Would Richard see the risk? No, not with what was going on right now. He had too many other things on his mind. Relieved she urged him down the corridor, forcing the relaxed appearance into her steps. Whatever happened she was ready to deal with it.
Even if her brother might believe otherwise.
Torches and lamps flickered along the corridor as they walked, their steps muffled by the thick rugs that had been laid out over the cold stone. Faded colors and newer rugs were laid by side, each one varying in size, design and color. Perhaps, in a place like the Dragon Throne castle, the rugs would all be of a similar design or be a mixture of longer rugs that had been woven for the castle, designed solely for use in one or more of the corridors, but here things were simpler.
Father didn’t believe in spending money on trimmings. Especially where so few would see them. He’d paid attention to the great hall, the guest rooms so people would be comfortable, but their own rooms, there he used older pieces, rugs that might be a little worn, because appearance didn’t matter to him.
Noise filtered out from behind the closed, heavy wooden doors. Doors bound with black iron, the wood dark from age and smoke from torches and lamps. Voices. She could make out voices but not the actual words, or the individual people. She glanced at the two guards, one on either side of the closed door, and nodded, searching their faces for anything they needed to be aware of. One of the men, his hair grizzled beneath the leather helmet he wore, gave a near imperceptible shake of his head.
Safe. At least for now.
Selena tugged on Richard’s arm and drew him to a halt before she moved in front of him and turned to meet his gaze. “We need to make sure you’re presentable.” She brushed her hand down his tunic, straightening the cloth and the belt both. Soft cotton, a rich red color, trimmed with silver along the hem and neckline. New, as were a few others in his trunk these days, this one had been completed by the seamstress only two days ago, especially for this event. This moment where he would stand up and take their father’s position before the assembled throng.
“I’m not ready.”
“Yes, you are. Now, take a deep breath, let it out slowly, straighten your back and shoulders, and focus.” She tugged a little more on the tunic, making sure that he looked presentable.
“Fine, but I don’t want to do it.”
“I doubt our father did either.” She patted fingertips against his cheek. “Buck up, it will all work out regardless of what you believe right now. You can and will do this and I will be right there. If you feel uncertain, look for me.” She couldn’t be on the dais with him, that would cause problems, but she could stand close by and keep an eye out for any problems that might arise.
Not might. Would.
“Yes, I know, and the guards are there.” He chuckled and shook his head. “Not that I’m a slouch in the sword or dagger department.” He touched the hilt of his dress dagger.
Thrown weapons, if there was an attack in the hall it would be with a throwing dagger, cross bow bolt, or something of that nature. It wouldn’t be up front and personal. Better yet, poison, but she’d taken steps to prevent anything of that nature from touching him before they’d left the room. “Put your gloves on, and remember, don’t eat or drink anything that’s offered to you. Not without having it tested first.” She touched the ring on his left hand. “Touch the gem to the food or drink, it will vibrate if there’s poison.” The ring, it had cost her a fifth of her savings, but if it kept Richard safe, then it was worth it.
“Where did you get this from?”
“We can discuss that later, after you’ve taken the oath.” She nodded toward the closed door. “Let’s get this done.” She stepped to the side, clearing the path to the double doorway.
Richard blanched, swallowed hard and looked at the door. A single bead of sweat formed on his top lip and Selena resisted the urge to wipe it away from his skin. Funny, he was the older sibling, but her desire to protect him and care for him continued to be an important and undeniable part of her life. Father would be amused.
Maybe he would be, but he’d also approve. She was, without a doubt, the strongest of the pair, with skills her brother knew nothing about. Their father had seen that, channeled those skills and seen to it that she had access to the right tutors so she could continue to learn. Skills she had focused, honed and now knew that she could call upon without thinking about it, all without her brother knowing about it.
“Stay near the guards, little sister. I don’t think I could handle losing you as well.” Richard gave a wane smile, worry creased across his brow before he touched the double door. “Let’s get this over and done with.”
Selena smiled and followed him into the chamber.
Conversation died as they walked into the large room and began the walk down the center toward the raised dais with its single, ornate, high backed chair, lit by a four torches that hung on the wall behind it. The chamber was one of the oldest rooms in the castle and it doubled as a feasting hall on special occasions when the smaller dining hall would not accommodate everyone who had been invited. If things went well, there would be a feast seven days from this point to celebrate the induction of Richard into the position of Lord Balvane.
All she had to do was keep him alive long enough to complete the ceremonies.
Four guards followed them through the hall, two stopped at the base of the steps and two more followed Richard up onto the dais. Selena eased to one side of the room and moved to the far left hand side of the dais, half behind one of the curtains that hid a side door into the main body of the castle. A door she quickly locked, sliding a bar across the door to prevent anyone from coming in behind her. She nodded to the guards who positioned themselves on either side of the throne like chair, they were both men she trusted, men she knew would place themselves in danger in order to protect Richard.
Selena looked back at her brother, watching as he stood for a moment in front of the chair before he sat down, hands resting on the carved arms of the chair. Despite his fears he looked every inch the Lord of Balvane, one of the twenty-seven lords that answered to the Dragon Throne. There were baronies and duchies along with knight’s fifes, but the twenty-seven lords were among the oldest families who owed their fealty to the throne. Legend had it that the lords were descendants of the men and women who had founded the kingdom alongside of King Elhard and his dragon, Agate.
“This day we come to swear fealty to Richard, the new Lord of Balvane,” a tall man, with gaunt features, in the black and white robes of Cosmas, god of Order, stepped up onto the steps leading up to the dais. “Richard is known and named as the eldest child of Balvane. In the name of Cosmas I proclaim him of sound mind and body, ready and able to wield sword and shield in defense of his people, and as such he is suitable to claim the title left vacant by the death of his beloved father.”
A soft, low rumble vibrated through the room, a mixture of uncertainty and assent.
“Would any here dispute his right to claim the title?” The priest held up a scroll, rolled and bound with a silver ribbon and heavy seal. “If there is one who would speak, let them do so now, knowing that Cosmas frowns upon those who bear false witness, or seeks glory, for this is a position of power and responsibility that will lay heavy upon the shoulders of the one who takes up this burden.”
By rights no one should have spoken in this moment. Tradition dictated that the question be asked, then a moment of silence before the priest took the next step in swearing him in.
“I would speak!” Tall, arrogant, with muscles that tightened and rippled beneath the plain tunic and hose he wore. Dark hair, caught in a pony tail at the nape of his neck, whispered over his back and a neatly clipped beard drew covered his chin but his cheeks had been shaved clean.
“Name yourself before the gods and know that they are listening.” The priest inclined his head, the scroll still held in his left hand.
“I am Veran, natural born son of Darian, former Lord of Balvane.”
There it is, the first public claim that he is of our blood. She eased out of the shadows, taking a half step so she could keep a closer eye on the man. She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes for a moment before she opened them fully, tapping into the magic that was a part of her bloodline. Perhaps magic was the wrong word, as she could cast no spells nor could she weave any wards, but she could see when others were gathering power in order to use magic themselves.
A low rumble moved through the crowd.
“Before witnesses you claim a blood connection with the family Balvane?” The priest pushed for the declaration.
“I am the eldest child of Darian Balvane, born out of wedlock but of his blood nevertheless.” Veren lifted his chin as he turned to face the room. “Natural born, but by the laws of succession I still have a right to be considered as the next Lord of Balvane.”
“And your proof of blood kinship?”
Something rippled around around Veren, it was small, subtle, barely there but it existed nevertheless.
“Father had planned on making an announcement but he was found dead before he could step forward and name me as one of his blood.” Veren announced, his words carrying through the room and with it the soft ripples of power.
Persuasion, he’s using a persuasion charm. She felt the tug, the pull on her senses but her own protections flared softly into life, repelling the attempt even as the ring she had given her brother did the same thing, protecting him from the subtle magic. She had told him about the poison detection but not this, he would have asked far too many questions and she wasn’t in a position where she felt comfortable or safe letting him know all of the secrets she held onto.
If he’s turned everyone else in the chamber, then… She swallowed. Hard. Even the guards had been touched by the magic. How could she protect…she frowned, her gaze moving to the priest. A deep frown creased the man’s brow and it too a moment before she realized he’d felt and repelled the spell. A priest. One with the ability to lift the spell from the rest of the room.
She took a step forward, gathering her will around her, but all she had the ability to do in that regards was protect herself against subtle spells. An all out attack, one blatant to everyone around her, would be far more than she could handle. She knew that one all too well.
The priest shifted his weight, turning just enough to catch her out of the corner of his eyes. The nod was barely precipitable, even to her, but it was enough. He knew what had happened and would lend his assistance.
“I would ask the good people gathered here to honor my father’s wishes in…”
“W-wait.” Richard called out, the word marred by a stutter.
Veren scowled and turned to look at him.
He doesn’t understand why Richard isn’t being hit by the compulsion. Where had Veren learned to spell cast?
The same magic she had access to had become something far more in him - which meant he was blood, wasn’t he? No, it doesn’t mean that, it means he has access to magic. He can cast spells, I can’t. Panic flared and eased in the same heartbeat.
“Brother, what ails you?” Veren took a step toward Richard, expecting the priest to step to one side. “You look ill.”
“Nothing ails me,” Richard coughed and shook his head, clearing his throat before he continued. “You ask those here to honor my father’s wishes, yet provide no proof. How can we know this is what he wanted when neither myself nor my sister heard anything from him. Nor is there anything in his office. Not so much as a hint of a mention in his journal, which all who know my father would know he kept faithfully.”
She expected the ripple of magic this time, and braced for it, praying that the ring would do its job and continue to protect Richard.
It swept over Richard, focused on him but the edges of it touched Selena. She closed her eyes, keeping her thoughts clear as she stood there. She couldn’t back down, couldn’t let the magic move her from her chosen path. She was stronger than this but still the spell beat at her, tearing at her defenses. Her vision blurred, pressure build within her mind and then - as quickly as it had struck - it was gone. She rocked on her heels, shaking her head to clear it.
“Will you not support me, brother? Will you fail to follow the wishes of our father?” Veren stopped, frowning at the priest who still stood in his path. “Step aside, man. Let me go to my brother and help him through this moment.”
“No,” the priest didn’t move.
Richard swayed on his feet, one hand pressed against his left temple. “I don’t feel…”
“Step aside, my brother needs my assistance.” Veren growled, closing the gap between himself and the priest. “Move. Now.”
“You do not have the right to walk onto the dais at this time.”The priest replied, his voice calm. “I will not step aside.”
It all happened so fast that, on looking back, Selena was grateful for her instincts.
Veren moved, drawing his dagger from its sheath on his hip. The priest brought up his hands, a shield of protection cast and settled in place before Veren struck. The blade slid off the shield, but the force of the impact was enough to send the priest tumbling from the steps with a startled cry.
Richard shook, still affected by the wave of magical attack. The two guards remained stunned, locked for a moment by the persuasion spell even as Veren bounded up the steps toward his brother, the dagger still in hand.
“They will not help you, brother. But you will help me.” Veren flipped the dagger, holding it out hilt first to Richard, a wave of magic following his words. “Take it and do what is best for all of us. End your suffering, leave the care of your sister in my hands and say goodbye to this world.”
Richard groaned and held out his hand, the movement slow as he fought against the pressure of the spell. Even with the ring, with the entire focus of the magic on him, he couldn’t fight what was happening. His hands tightened into a fist only to open, his palm up, ready to accept the dagger.
Selena struggled against the final pull of the spell and darted forward, slamming her entire body weight into Veren. As one they sprawled, tumbling down off the dais until they hit the floor with a combined yelp of pain.
“Bitch!” Veren hissed, twisting beneath her. “Stupid, ignorant bitch!”
She didn’t waste breath on a reply. With a clenched fist she struck, gut punching him with every ounce of strength she had. She straddled him, punching down a second time as she kept one eye on the dagger, still held loosely in his hand. The blade had bitten into his skin, blood seeping across his palm as he struggled beneath her.
“Stop her! She is a traitor!” Veren screamed, but he lacked the ability to focus. Without focus there was no spell and those in the hall stood there, blinking, some of them shaking visibly as natural defenses kicked in, giving them a chance to fight back against the persuasion spell that had claimed them. “Restrain her!”
No one moved.
“Little bitch, I don’t know how you avoided the spell, but I’ll find out. I’ll break you!” He hissed, twisting the dagger in his hand.
Time slowed. The blade now pointed in her direction, the grip tight enough to whiten his knuckles. She tensed, weight shifting, all of the lessons, years of training, kicked in. She didn’t think; she acted. As he thrust, she blocked and slapped his hand aside, the blow enough to cause him to yelp. Pain. She was aware of the pain in her hands from the blows she’d struck but that didn’t stop her. She didn’t care if she broke bones in her hands, wrists or arms for that matter.
With the second blow she knocked the dagger from his hands, sending it skittering across the cold stone floor.
Noise built up around them, voices as men and women began to pull free from the lingering affects of the spell. As long as she kept him from being able to focus, she knew he wouldn’t be able to release another spell. No matter how skilled a magic user the man was, he needed focus in order to use his ability and something told her, from the way he had resorted to physical attack, that he wasn’t among the more powerful mages. That gave her an advantage, even if it was a small one.
“You can’t win,” he growled, arching up from the floor, shoving her back with a hard push from both hands.
Selena hissed between clenched teeth, letting the force of his attack rock her back. She went limp, not fighting the momentum of the strike, instead she turned it into a backward flip, coming back up to her feet, her weight balanced equally as she looked down at him. “You’re a liar and a traitor. A magic user, twisting the minds of those around you to force them to bend to your desires.”
“You… you lie!”
“No, she does not.” The shaky voice of the priest cut through the growing noise.
Veren turned, his jaw tight, face pale save for twin spots of color in his cheeks. “You are mistaken, how could I use magic? I’m no mage!” He turned to look at the men and women in the chamber. “She has confused the priest, perhaps even corrupted him!"
“I swear by Cosmas, that I am untouched by the corruption of magic, despite the attempt by Veren, self proclaimed true born son of Darian Balvane, to use a persuasion spell on all within this room. When others fell beneath the spell, only myself, Richard Balvane and Selena Balvane stood untouched from the first wave of magic. I, in the name of the Lord Cosmas, do swear that Veren attempted, by the unlawful use of magic, to corrupt and control all within this chamber.” The priest lifted his head and voice alike, taking care to make sure that his voice carried through the room.
“No! Tha-that’s a foul lie!” Veren protested.
“You know it to be true.” Selena advanced on the man.
Veren backed away one step, then a second, his body tensing with the need to escape. Panic colored his features, fear stripping him of common sense as he looked around the chamber. “This wasn’t meant to be this way. I am the rightful lord. You all know this. You were ready to support me before this…” he waved a hand in the direction of Selena, “this woman stepped into the business of men!”
“Do you claim that a woman has no right to speak in this chamber? Despite the laws of this land and our King?” Richard broke free of the remaining hold created by the spell, his voice calm and cold. “Do you name yourself above the laws that govern us all?” Her brother inhaled, shaking his head clear of it all. “This man used magic on us all, search your memories, look past the magic that has left your minds fogged, just as I am now having to do. We were bound by magic and he then attempted to use that same magic to remove me from this world.”
Veren stammered but nothing beyond intelligible sounds made it past his lips.
“Seize him,” Richard ordered.
Selena rolled out her shoulders, working out the tension that had grown from the fight. Though it had been brief in nature, Veren was a good seventy or more pounds heavier and now her body began to alert her to the aches created by the conflict.
“You have no right,” Veren protested, backing away from the two guards that hadn’t stepped up onto the dais with Richard. The two who had taken position with their future lord, and were now free of the spell, tensed ready to move if their colleagues needed assistance. “I will not be treated like this.” He continued to back away but even as she watched, Veren’s left hand moved to the soft leather pouch on his belt.
Hair rose on the back of her neck, instincts screaming a warning even as she shifted her weight onto the balls of her feet, ready to act.
Veren snarled at the two men, his hand tightening on something he’d withdrawn from the pouch. Magic rippled in a wave of energy around the traitor even as he tossed black and silver dust into the air, the spell triggering the moment he released the energy. A spell she had encountered before.
Selena turned away just in time, hands covering her eyes, the heels of her hands blocking out light in the moment before the spell ignited.
The sound rang out through the chamber, panicked screams mingling with cries of protest as the spell struck every man, woman and child who hadn’t taken steps to protect themselves.
She coughed, spitting out the bitter taste of the spell infused powder, opening her eyes and blinking rapidly when she was certain that the last of the spell had been spent.
“He’s gone,” the Priest informed her, his voice pitched low. “I felt his exit a breath after he cast the blinding spell.”
He was gone, but they hadn’t seen the last of him. Whatever reason he had for targeting her family wouldn’t have vanished with the casting of the blinding spell. Nor would a man of Veren’s nature willingly turn away from what they saw as their prize. No. He’d be back. Sooner or later there would be another attack and she would be there to prevent it, even if her actions today now meant she’d have to explain to Richard exactly who and what she was.
“What happened?” Richard’s voice, touched with fear, cut through the air. “I can’t see.”
Other’s took up the cry, proclaiming their lack of ability to see, but the only one who mattered - at least to Selena - was her brother. She nodded once to the priest, knowing he would begin to settle the room, allowing her to focus on Richard.
“I’m here,” she confirmed.
“Why can’t I see?” The panic flared and eased within the space of a sentence.
“A spell, it will pass shortly.” He wouldn’t be content until she reached him and he felt the touch of her hand on his arm. “Let me help you, brother.” Head held high, Selena Balvane, sworn sword in the service of the house Balvane, turned and walked up the steps to attend her duty to her lord…