Of Ash & Blood
I remember the day my father died. It was a month after my 19th birthday, I was left to train at home while he and his men went to a neighboring manor, speaking of plans for the cold winter months about to come.
Father frequently left me at home when he went out. Seeing as father was injured in battle years ago, he had lost favor with King Connard. Pride, nobility, and power were the only things that really mattered to him. He wanted his son to be the best, but no matter how many knights I beat, how much taller, muscular I became, awards Id won, it was never enough. I thought it never would be.
Winters were always the worst here, we all needed to prepare for any possible attacks from those outside. Taxes had been increasing lately as per King Connad, driving some groups to hire bandits or even desperate mercenaries to raid surrounding lands. Tensions were high wondering whether this meant the kingdom had either gone bankrupt, or if the possibility of war was inching near. With everyone paying higher taxes, those less fortunate were lead to stealing for things like food, clothes, blankets. He would more than likely be gone for three weeks, two months tops.
It was just over a week later that we heard the trotting of the horses hoofs, all the way from the training grounds. The other knights and I paused, serving eachother questioning looks.
”Lets go look, it is possible your father sent some men home early with some supplies, ” Sir Wyse, one of my fathers oldest knights, holstered his sword to his hip and began walking the opposite way to the cobblestone stairs leading out. He was a strange looking man, short blonde hair with a thickening beard. He had a scar running from his temple to his nose, a scar he received while fighting along side my father. The man was tall, with senses so heightened you would forget he only had one eye. He did not go along on expeditions or battle anymore, mainly spending his time training other knights.
We all walked behind, following him through the halls and down the stairs to the main yard. Sir Doran walked a few paces ahead of us, we saw Sir Gallien and Rolant at the front, showing no expression as they halted just past the gates. Sir Wyse was the first to speak,
”What happened? Have you been sent back early? ” He asked, walking up a few paces more to close the gap between them. ”Need help unloading the wagon? ” He looked over their shoulders as the men in the back began to drop down from their horses, speaking to Sir Wyse in a hushed tone.
”Fetch the maids and have them get her Ladyship out here. ” Sir Gallien said.
”Has the Lord asked to deliver something to her- ” Sir Wyse began, in a teasing tone, but he was quickly cut off.
”No. I am sure she will want to see him, before… ” Both of their eyes trailed back to me. I took a few slow steps forward and behind them to inspect what was in the wagon, I could feel my heart pounding, I could hear it in my ears. There I saw a long, thick bodily shape hidden under a black woolen blanket, laying in the straw, boots sticking out from beneath. I felt my blood go cold, like ice shooting from my head to my feet in my veins.
I took a step back and cleared my throat, looking over at the three of them, the other men busy leading their horses, and stood tall.
”One of you go to the church, fetch the pastor. The others prepare the fire. ”
”I said, go fetch the pastor, and prepare the fires. She cannot- ”
”Where is he!? Where is my husband – you! Silas, let me see him! ” I heard my mothers shrill cries from across the yard, I looked up to see her carrying her skirt as she ran over to us. I dug my feet into the dirt, blocking her way from the sight. My mother was not a strong woman, especially emotionally. The smallest thing would send her into fits. How would she react to seeing her husband lay dead over some hay, in the back of a wagon?
She ran into me and reached back, trying to push her way past me. I gripped her wrists firmly, I had already surpassed her height at age 13, and at 19, I could easily beat any of the men here in training. My mother stood no chance to push past me if even a grown man couldn .
”L-Let me go! He is my husband! I have the right to see him! Let me go! ” She sobbed, I held on tighter, not saying a word. Anything I said would only upset her more.
”Someone go fetch Arion! He – He could do something, couldn he? ” She looked around at us with pleading eyes, her dark hair disheveled and strew every which way as she pleaded.
I looked over at Gallion, who had a worried look to his face. Arion was the castles sorcerer, he was newly trained and this was his first job. Most lords or nobles had sorcerers at their disposal, used for healing, battle, defense, nature spells – but not for what she was asking. She squirmed in my arms, making fists and pounding them on my chest. I didn budge. I simply held on.
I handed my sobbing mother to her maidservants and went over to the men as soon as I felt her loosen into a soft cry. I could hear her speaking to them – asking them to fetch Arion, have him do anything he possibly could.
I didn bother to ask what had happened, I didn want to know. I folded my arms over my chest as I spoke with Gallion and Wyse as I watched Arion approach carefully from behind, pulling the hood of his robe up over his scrawny frame. I grabbed ahold of his arm and pulled him to the side, I had not even noticed the dark clouds that had gathered over the area. It would rain soon, so we had to hurry.
”Arion, all you need to do is cast a calming spell. ” I said, my head tilted over to my mother. ”Nothing else. ”
”W- ” His brown eyes went wide when he saw the others lowering my fathers body from the wagon, wrapped in the blanket, his sword laid on top of his body as they carried him down the hill. My mother was begging and pleading from behind as the maids held onto her quivering body.
I looked at Arion, forcing him to look me in the eyes with a tug at his arm. ”Do not say anything, just make her calm down. The priest will be here soon, lets just get this over with. ”
Arion was still young, younger than me by a year or two. Sorcerers were no better than peasants unless they were quick to get an apprenticeship , to be used for mostly defense or to help the crops grow with natural spells. They would unfortunately have to learn on the job in most cases, such as this one, as his teacher had passed a few months back from being ill.
Arion nodded, heading mothers way, taking her hand in his. I turned my head over to Gallion and we headed down the hill, Sir Wyse already speaking with Father August who had just arrived.
I watched my father burn that night, listening to Father August shout prayers at the smoke that filled the air, as if they were dancing around the trees, disappearing into the night sky. Prayers and hyms were sang by him and the others, my mother sitting next to Arion on a bench, a white glow emitting from them that I could only assume was the calming magic he was surrounding her with. It was custom to burn the deads body as soon as possible, to not trap their soul to the earth and return their souls to the Fae. Their body must be gone for them to move from this world, to the next.
The night came to an end and everyone returned to their quarters. I walked mother to her room and made sure she got into bed as the servants would start the fireplace. I did this every night for a month, before she joined father.
I was alone.
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