Sir Zephrym Vladon, captain of the king’s guard, clutched Crown Prince Brad tightly to him as he rode through the Wherwell Forest, ten leagues west of Magnus. A light snow was falling, but did little to obscure vision. Zephrym wished that he had the blossoms of spring filling out the forest rather than the dark skeletons of winter, so that they could be shielded from view. He knew that insurrectionist soldiers — those who sought to uncrown King Caeron and replace him with the Beinisonian Empress Aendasia Blortnikson — would be looking for them and could not be far away.
The boy prince, a mere six years of age, clutched at Zephrym’s
surcoat with hands wrapped in warm mittens. Even through the thick wool
gambeson and chain mail hauberk, Zephrym could feel the warmth of Brad’s
body pressing against him. Thank the All-Creator the child had stopped
crying for his father, the king, as it had torn at Zephrym’s heart to
A frigid breeze swept over him. It carried with it chilling voices
that whispered in a strange language. A grey mist moved with the voices,
dancing amidst Zephrym’s knights then darting away. Zephrym reined his
in horse so that Queen Dara could catch up to him. She was not a skilled
rider; she and her ladies-in-waiting had slowed the escape from Magnus
Zephrym’s chest tightened as he remembered King Caeron ordering him
to abandon Magnus and take the royal family with him. Zephrym had been a
knight in the Tallirhan household for decades. He had taught Caeron how
to ride a horse and wield a sword. The king was his friend. Zephrym had
begged to stay with him in Magnus, but Caeron had needed someone he
could trust to protect the royal family and get them to safety.
“My lady.” Zephrym’s voice came out as a croak. He cleared his throat
and tried again. “My lady queen, stay close by my side. This is an evil
wind that blows. I fear it carries word to the enemy; it is the eyes of
“Truly, you think so?” The queen’s voice was a mere whisper, almost the timbre of a young child’s.
“I fear so.” Zephrym nodded. He had heard many tales of the power
that Beinisonian mages could wield. Seeking out their enemies with
magical mists was among the least of their spells. “But do not trouble
yourself; we will protect you. With our lives if need be.”
He looked around at the household knights of Caeron Tallirhan. He was
sure that they were the best knights in the land, each having been
hand-picked and trained by himself. They were all completely loyal to
the king, as well.
The crack of a dry twig breaking sounded to Zephrym’s left and his
head snapped over to look in that direction. Through the sparse, barren
trees, he could make out several horses and riders. He narrowed his
eyes, trying to discern their heraldry. Were they friend, or foe? Before
Zephrym had left Magnus, the king had received word that a loyal army
from Welspeare was moving north to try to lift the siege on Irskin
Castle. However, he also knew that the insurrectionist houses had armies
in the same region and would undoubtedly have scouts looking for the
precious treasure Zephrym escorted.
He carefully reached into a pouch that hung from his belt and pulled
out a small acorn that he had carried for years. The mage who had given
it to him long ago had claimed that it could be used once to determine
if enemy or friend was nearby. If they were friends, it would turn into a
robin; if enemies, a crow. There was no better time to use such an
object, he decided, for when else would he be charged with protecting
the Queen of Baranur? He held the acorn to his lips and whispered, “Friend or foe, who are they?”
He threw the acorn towards the riders ahead but it simply fell to the
ground and disappeared in the snow. Zephrym silently chided himself for
so foolishly trusting such a bauble. He had his own instincts that he
could rely on, and those told him that these were soldiers of the
“To arms!” Zephrym shouted, pulling his sword free of its sheath.
One of the ladies-in-waiting to his rear screamed as more brittle
branches cracked. He turned his mount to see another group of knights
plunging through the forest towards them. “A clever trap,” he thought.
The high-pitched clang of weapons striking each other rang through
the forest as the attackers reached his knights. Holding Prince Brad
carefully with his left arm, Zephrym charged to intercept a knight
moving towards Queen Dara.
“Mama!” the prince cried. “What’s happening?”
“Brad!” Queen Dara screamed back. Her horse spooked and skittered out of Zephrym’s line of sight.
With a powerful swing of his sword, he caught the knight on the side
of his helm and knocked him from his horse. Now Brad was wailing at the
top of his lungs. Zephrym’s horse reared up and danced to the side as
more enemy knights darted around him. He knew the heraldries of all the
house guard well and so could easily identify his enemies.
He wheeled about and charged to Queen Dara’s side just in time to
knock aside the hand of a knight reaching for her horse’s reins. The
man’s chainmail saved him from losing the hand altogether, but he
bellowed in pain all the same. Two more knights charged up and attacked
Zephrym from both sides. He deftly knocked their blows aside, but he was
beginning to tire.
Out of fatigue, he left an opening in his guard. He watched his
opponent’s sword swing slowly towards Brad’s head. Zephrym swung his arm
down to protect the child and the blade sliced into his chainmail
sleeve. Flames seared where he was hit. His sword dropped silently to
the ground, snow softening its fall.
His horse reared up in a defensive posture, allowing Zephrym to wrap
Prince Brad with his wounded right arm and reach down to his boot with
the other. He pulled a long-bladed dagger from it and, as his horse
dropped its front hoofs back to the ground, rammed the blade up into his
attacker’s throat. With a gurgling sound the knight dropped his own
sword and slumped in his saddle.
Another knight wearing an old-style kettle helm charged in and swung
with her flail. Zephrym was barely able to duck the blow. He urged his
horse closer and, as his opponent wound up for another attack, he threw
his dagger. The blade caught her in the mouth and she toppled backwards
off her horse with a gurgled scream.
Zephrym looked around. The skirmish was over, bodies scattered about
between trees with pools of brilliant red seeping into the snow around
them. A handful of the enemy were fleeing, but most were dead. Only a
few of the king’s knights had been laid low. Given a few moments to
gather himself, he was able to have a proper look at the heraldry of the
felled knights. They all appeared to be Northfielders, given the
prevalence of blue. Duke Northfield was Aendasia’s husband, so Zephrym
was hardly surprised.
“Please, give me my son,” Queen Dara said.
Zephrym realised that Prince Brad was still bawling in his arms and
wriggling to get free. Zephrym moved his horse close to the queen and
with his good arm took the boy by the back of his fur cloak and handed
him over. Queen Dara looked down at Zephrym’s arm and gasped.
“You are wounded, Sir Zephrym.”
“I am only a little weak,” he replied. “Please, my lady queen, we
must continue on. These were but a small scouting party; I’m certain
there are more of them nearby.”
“Surely by now my husband has defeated them at Magnus,” she said.
Zephrym nodded silently. He hoped that she was right, but he could
hear the lack of conviction in her voice, and felt it within his own
heart. By the All-Creator, this was one time he should have disobeyed
his liege and stayed at Magnus to fight by his side.
He swallowed hard and dismounted to pick up his sword that still lay
in the snow. He wiped it off on the surcoat of one of the dead enemy and
sheathed it. He noticed a dark brown horse out of the corner of his
eye. He looked up to see Cyruz of Vidin, a Stevenic priest who had
insisted on accompanying the queen north.
“Lord Vladon,” the priest said in a deep, rumbling voice like thunder
echoing in the mountains. “Perhaps it might be prudent for us to travel
only at night now that the enemy knows we are near.”
Zephrym grunted. “I appreciate the advice, but we need to make good
speed if we are to find friendly forces before this entire region is
covered in Northfield troops. However, what we should do is divide our
contingent. The ladies in waiting slow us down too much, and frankly, I
hardly see the purpose in having them with us. They will make a good
decoy if dispatched in another direction with a few good knights.”
The plan formulated in his mind, Zephrym gathered together two dozen
of his company and ordered them to take the ladies in waiting due north.
As that group departed, he stalked over to where the queen was now
sitting on a log, drying her son’s tears. “My lady queen, we must leave
“Must we, right now?” she whispered. “Couldn’t we rest at least a few menes?”
“No, it must be now; it’s too dangerous to stay.” Zephrym grit his
teeth at the weakness of the queen. One more breath of cold wind and she
might shatter like a piece of fine pottery. J’mirg’s Bones, why was he
stuck out here with this little girl while King Caeron fought at Magnus?
He prayed that King Caeron was safe, that the realm would not be
saddled with this limpid child.
Read the rest of the story here: http://dargonzine.org/the-great-houses-war-part-3-the-stealthy-guardians/
Links to the rest of the series here: http://dargonzine.org/series/the-great-houses-war/