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The corpse of his bodyguard stood headless across from him.
The blade materialized into the hand of the carcass, and in one fluid motion it lowered its level and darted toward him.
Robert saw the puppet’s strings now, a slight light in the dark. The light of the moon gleamed off them as he took a quick breath.
Would it be enough?
Robert pulled his sword back and steeled himself. The body ran nearly parallel to the ground and its feet moved fast. Impossibly fast.
Blood spurting from the neck stump, the puppet swung up — then straight forward in a fencing thrust.
Robert had already committed to the upswing, bringing his sword over and down at the wrong angle.
Dropping a foot back in a hard pivot threw out his knee and avoided the thrust of the corpse puppet. Mostly. The sting in his side was nothing compared to whatever the hell happened to his knee, which screamed at him in agony.
Where is he –
Another person appeared near him, behind him.
To the right..?
A blade appeared at his throat, to his dismay. Then, it fell away. A limp body collapsed behind him. Slowly, very slowly he turned to look and saw his son. Much older than when he last saw him.
“I have news, m’ Lord” He tossed a blade with the flick of his wrist into a bush nearby, and the bush screamed and out slumped the puppeteer.
“… Maybe call a healer first.” Robert grunted. He stared at the dead puppeteer. an elf with a raven emblazoned on his forehead. Green eyes staring angrily in death. A strong glow emanated from Tristan’s hands, snapping tendons and miscellaneous sinew back into place, rippling visibly underneath his skin. Robert grit his teeth and grunted in agony, to the delight of the darkness around them. The coppery smell of blood lingered in the air.
Invisible hands rubbed together and ancient lips licked, smacking loudly — but Robert couldn’t hear.
“Thank you.” Robert when did you learn that?”
“That’s what I wanted to tell you. The news I mean.” Tristan grinned just like Robert and more often than Robert. Normally it irritated Robert. A laugh came naturally from both.
“I do have other news, sir.” Tristan narrowed his eyes. Even his curly brown hair looked more serious.
“One half of the Ravens is willing to talk terms.”
“They’re willing to talk? And half?” Robert scoffed.
“They’re not monolithic, sir. Many groups tire of the fighting and are willing to talk. Probably half of them want to use this as a ruse to kill some of us. But the other half of that –”
“So, maybe 1/4 of them is willing to talk?”
“But it is that small group that is important.”
“It’s exactly who you think it is. They survived…” He stared intensely and paused, gauging Robert’s response.
“…However”. Robert exhaled forcefully through his nose in a half laugh.
“However… they want a marriage. And familial rights to the council. Seats on the Senate. Votes.”
Now it was Robert’s turn to pause.
“They seriously are willing to consider this? What proof do I have?” Robert rubbed his knee and stood. A paper rustled, a sealed scroll. Sealed with a dark wax. Peace?
The scroll bore the ancient seal of Elven blood. Something that hasn’t been seen for 30 years. Describing the terms, concession of all Elven territory in exchange for representation. A self-defense force for Elves. Additionally, an illustration was rolled up along with the document. A skillful hand had drawn a most delicate picture of a rare prize.
An Elven princess. For Robert’s hand.
“But I am already married.” Tristan stood silent.
“Father… You know she has been dead for nearly ten years now.”
They stared at each other. The moon stared too.
“What…?” Robert’s head suddenly hurt very badly and he had to sit down from the sudden wave of nausea. Memories of her long black hair in his hands flooded his mind amidst the tears.
“We need to get you to a proper healer.” Tristan whispered to him as he put Robert’s arm around his shoulder. “Let us leave this grim place. Rally the Halharken.” Tristan now spoke loudly to the scouts gathered around him.
They stood unresponsive to Tristan’s command. Tristan steadied himself under the weight of his father and prepared to shout again. Omar stepped forward from the troops with a face as sullen as Robert felt. He held a scroll in his hand.
“Tristan, step away from Robert.” Omar’s voice was barely a whisper. Tristan scoffed.
“What? Rally your troop and prepare to move to the capital. We do not have time for this.”
Robert was feeling steadier, and stood on his own now. Shoulder to shoulder with his blood. He leaned to Tristan and spoke softer than Omar.
“Something is wrong.”
“BY ORDER OF THE KING, RULER OF ALL MEN AND ELF AND HALFBREED. STEP AWAY FROM LORD LOWMAN.” Omar had drawn his weapon and stepped closer, in unison with the stomps of the Halharken closing their half circle upon them.
“Omar, what is this foolishness?” Robert spoke as he pulled his sword. He did not want to hurt his friends, but blood is blood. He helped raise the man standing next to him. Now they were back to back as the crowd closed in.
Omar stared, the smell of each others’ sweat could be tasted on the air. “Robert… I… This scroll came just now by royal courier. The Kingsguard sent their best hawk to bring this.” Omar tossed a parchment that had been crumpled up in a ball to Robert’s hand. Robert read it and paled visibly even in the shadows of the trees. The shadows tingled with delight.
“Tristan… How can this be? The King says you are a traitor. You are collaborating with the Elves in a secret plot?” Robert turned to face Tristan, who stared at him in confusion.
“NO! I had just come here on the orders of the Court! This must be a mistake!” Everyone’s knuckles tightened on their weapons.
“There is no mistake, child.” Omar grimaced and took his stance. Robert stared in horror as Tristan began muttering ancient words and his sword glowed with a foreign light.
The light certain Elves could imbue in their blades.
Omar and the Halharken dashed forward together, Robert raised his blade to protect his son against their curved sabers. Tristan exhaled and the world exploded in ancient light.
Then darkness. Slight steam rising from the ground around them. Robert and Tristan stood in a small sea of corpses. Omar’s face continued to grimace up at them from their feet.
Robert fell to the ground and screamed in a mix of rage and sadness.
Tristan still held his blade up. “Did you hear that, Father?”
Robert just stared at his dead friend in silence. His heart now a chunk of dead matter.
“We are still not alone… There was a strange scream just now, not the men here. What wa–” A large burst of blood sprayed from his mouth onto the back of Robert’s head.
Tristan fell beside him, his body twitching furiously. Blood spurted from his ears and nose with each heartbeat. Steam rose from his body writhing in the dirt, and the steam quickly turned into a thick forceful blast as if a great furnace had opened before him.