“What shall I do with all my burdens, Tovorash?” the Everking of Asyther said to the armored man standing a respectful distance behind him.
“Let me help you bear them, Everness. I am capable, and you know where my honor lies, unlike some of the others in court.”
“And it is that very honor that helps me discern between good and evil, my friend. Though I think you fear the court too much,” the regent said with a smile. “But this is also why I cannot allow you to bear my burden.”
The two men stood in silence for a while.
“It’s a Northwind, Everness,” Tovorash Ablenar, knight-guardian of the Third Order, said quietly, watching the vicious light on the horizon.
“Yes,” the regent replied, eyes saddening. “It is.” He turned to his bodyguard abruptly. “Tell me, Tovorash, do you think me a man of honor?”
The knight answered without hesitation. “Of course, Everness.”
“But I have made some poor decisions in the past, yes?”
Tovorash was slower in his reply. “They seemed best at the time, Everness.”
“But those decisions hurt my people, did they not?”
For a moment, the man was silent, then he answered quietly, “They did, Everness.”
“And I knew they would, did I not?”
Uncomfortably, Tovorash agreed.
“And yet I made the decision. How can I be a man of honor if I deliberately do things that hurt other people?”
For a while, the two men were silent. Then the bodyguard spoke. “Sometimes, Everness, others have to suffer for the greater good. If soldiers were not willing to give their lives for the cause, the whole country could fall to external invasions.”
“And if the people are not willing? What then?”
Tovorash was silent. Instead, he watched the ruler. The knight may not have been a philosopher, but he was observant. He saw in the Everking’s profile a strong, kind man, but he also saw a man hardened by the reality of ruling, steeled against adverse consequences, but most of all, determined to do the right thing. That latter quality had gained a lot of respect from the bodyguard of late.
“Come, my friend,” the Everking said at last. “It is time I faced my demons.”
Following the regent, Tovorash kept his hand on the hilt of his battle-hammer, eyes watchful for any potential sources of danger. While he left political battles to his superior, the knight took his job very seriously, sometimes even too seriously for his employer.
When the monarch sat in his high-backed, ornate throne, Tovorash took his place to the left and slightly behind the Everking. This position was chosen quite deliberately by the bodyguard, who, knowing his right hand was faster than his left, understood that were someone to fire a projectile at his charge, he would have a greater chance of saving the regent by throwing his right arm in front of the Everking.
Marthulus, the resident flamewarden, entered. Tovorash eyed him suspiciously as he stood in the center of the room. Closing his eyes, the flamewarden breathed deeply in and folded his hands together. Exhaling sharply, he threw his arms out to his sides. Torches lit themselves all throughout the room with real fire, something only seen in the highest of places, such as the Everking’s palace. Nobody except those who cast glyphs could control fire, and only flamewardens were legally allowed to use it.
Tovorash did not care much for mystics and their glyphs and glyphcasting, but he could not deny the power Marthulus had to possess to simply create fire. Something inside the bodyguard itched at the thought, but he suppressed the feeling and eyed the main doors as two palace guards swung them open. For a moment, the nagging thought returned as the bodyguard watched the doors swing open. What exactly was it? He glanced around the room for Marthulus; the flamewarden was gone.
As the earliest arrivals started filing into the court, the bodyguard once again suppressed his instincts and focused on his task. He barely glanced at the two puffy lords who sought audience with the Everking first; the only threat they posed was damaging the furniture by throwing up on it. The next dignitary, a slim, haughty man from the Havnar Province in the west had the guardian’s attention for a while, but was eventually dismissed as harmless.
However, when Tovorash saw a man caked with mud and dirt dash in and demand an audience with the Everking from a guard, he tightened his hold on the intricately carved grip of his weapon. One of the guards held the distraught man back while the other moved up and whispered something to one of the Everking’s advisors. The advisor then relayed the message to the regent himself, who tightened his lips upon hearing the news.
Tovorash heard a commotion at the door and mentally cursed himself for getting distracted. The messenger had suddenly broken free from the guard and now rushed towards the throne. Quickly unhooking his hammer from his belt, the bodyguard positioned himself in front of the Everking.
As the messenger rushed forward, the knight-guardian subconsciously took in details about the man. He was thin and wiry, built for running, as most messengers were. On his chest was the Vith royal insignia, and he wore a modified version of the tri-folded robe popular in Vith culture. However, what concerned Tovorash the most was the man’s face. Something about the way the man looked gave Tovorash the impression that the messenger had lost his mind.
The knight-guardian did not quite understand what was going on, and he did not want to have to hit the scrawny man with his hammer, but Tovorash stood prepared to do whatever was necessary. He held his large weapon in an opposing grip, dominant leg behind him, with exactly two thirds of his weight on it— a classic Hamdel defensive stance
However, the messenger tripped and fell before he could reach the throne. He landed face first and instantly went limp. Everybody in the court room fell silent as the guards cautiously approached the prostrate man. Tovorash felt sweat from his hands dampen his gloves, and his face hardened as he went on full alert. This smelled very much like an assassination attempt to him.
Instinct told him to survey the rest of the room. This would be the opportune moment for the real killer to strike, while everybody’s attention was focused on the decoy. Well, he would not be so easily fooled. Shadows, cast by the firelight of the torches, seemed to dash in and out of alcoves and corridors, making Tovorash scan the area frantically.
A collective gasp echoed around the courtroom, and the bodyguard cast a glance back at the body of the messenger. One of the guards had flipped the messenger over and Tovorash barely stifled an exclamation himself. The man was— glowing.
No, his face was glowing. Light poured from his eye sockets, nose, and mouth like vapor; it flowed as if it had a life of its own, spilling out onto the floor and pooling around the man. Tovorash did not know what to make of this. Nobody had seen phenomena like this since— the man didn’t know if anyone had ever witnessed something like this.
“What is it?” the king demanded, rising from his throne and pushing past his guard, who had been blocking the ruler’s line of sight.
Before the knight could stop him, the king had already reached the circle of guards and seen the messenger. For a moment he stared, then he turned away pale and stumbled back towards Tovorash, who hurried forward to support him.
Without warning, the messenger’s body rose from the ground as a strong wind burst in through the doors, slamming them against the walls of the palace. Suspended in the air, the body turned slowly to face the Everking. Tovorash shoved his charge behind his bulky body as he prepared to deal with the imminent threat. The body floated for a few seconds, before light beams erupted from its face, blinding everybody for a second.
In the excess of light, they all heard a loud voice, too resonant to be human, thundering, “The Rebirth comes. That which is timeless will return. See to the necessary preparations.”
When Tovorash had finally recovered his vision, a corpse lay on the ground, limbs twisted, body wasted.