By Alicia Steen
The final day of the tournament has arrived, and the crowd has wound itself into a frenzy. Today all the tournament favorites clash in epic duels for the coveted title of champion. This year some new faces have made it into the finals, including the strange warrior from Gathyra. Delia, though, watches with trepidation as Dnovan squares off against Khad. She silently wishes Dnovan one more time to be careful.
And blow Khad out of the water. Because if he didn’t, she might.
Their swords clash. As always, Dnovan holds his own, a silent, strong, impenetrable wall. He wears opponents down by outlasting them. Khad is quite skilled in his own right, however, and for tense moments neither gains the upper hand. Then Khad flicks his wrist and sends a blade not toward Dnovan but speeding toward Delia.
Delia leans her head away from the incoming blade with an outward calmness, and it strikes the wood behind her. Unfortunately, none saw it except for her, Dnovan, and Gail beside her. Delia calms Gail’s anger, but inward she feels all Gail’s fury and then some. As does Dnovan. Anger lights his eyes, and he becomes the unstoppable Captain Dnovan of the battlefield. If Khad thought Dnovan’s anger would allow him to claim victory, he was dead wrong.
After Dnovan wins the match, fortunately without killing Khad outright, Delia quietly stands up and makes her way to his tent, where the rest of the brothers are waiting.
“That was the dirtiest trick I ever saw from a knight!” Dwaine exclaims.
“More than dirty, it was a declaration of war,” Druce agrees.
“Let’s pour acid on all his blades, just to start,” Aedn proposes.
“I’ll help you,” Arlan offers in rare agreement.
“I can’t believe no one else saw it,” Devin says.
“What can we say? He’s good,” Delia offers as she steps in.
“Agreed. Just not good enough.” Dnovan comes in.
“So what will we do from here?” Aedn asks.
“Nothing,” Delia replies. Aedn blinks.
“Nothing,” Dnovan agrees as he takes off his armor.
“You’re taking this rather well,” Devin tells Delia cautiously. “You of all people should be the most angry.”
“Anger would be tepid.” Delia replies. The air around her picks up, giving way to swirling, whipping winds. “I am seething with rage. Fortunately, I know someone much better at revenge than I am, and for me to act now would just steal his thunder later.” Delia calms her wind and moves to leave. “Besides, Khad is not my enemy. All the same, Dnovan, I’m glad you beat him. I should get back to the stands where the honorable Sir Khad can keep a proper eye on me.”
Dnovan nods. “Arlan will escort you.”
When Delia and Arlan have left, Dwaine whispers to Devin. “Remind me not to make her angry.”
Devin nods. “If it’s you, she’s not as likely to hold back.”
The rest of the tournament goes much more smoothly. Dnovan remains fired up for his next match against Sir Elhren, the former champion, and the crowd loves it. Dnovan wins that match, catapulting him for the first time into the final. His opponent for the final is equally unexpected: the warrior from Gathyra, Parker Gathriel. Dnovan and Parkr put on a display of swordsmanship that leaves the audience breathless, hanging on every strike. With his sister cheering for him, Dnovan pulls out another win. Finally, Sir Dnovan has won the championship.
The celebratory feast that night is the most merry in known memory. Delia and Dnovan are swamped with greetings and congratulations. All the Laine family are the focus of the festivities, with everyone wanting to either converse on Dnovan’s impressive win or hear the details of the long-lost sister. In a corner, Dwaine and Devin speak with Conant and other knights while observing Delia from across the room.
“Did you see Dnovan’s face?” Sir Conant from the southern kingdom laughs. “Aedn’s a genius!”
“I was too busy making a face of my own,” Sir Dwain confesses. “Aedn was right about his secret weapon. It would have floored any one of us.”
“To think it was a woman, and a long-lost sister besides! Have you had a chance to meet her?”
Sir Devin nods and sets down his cup. “We have, but you’re better off admiring her from afar. Dnovan has already passed from ‘shocked twin brother’ to ‘protective twin brother’.”
Dwain gestures to Dnovan who from his place on Delia’s right gives a glowering stare. Conant chokes on his drink. “I see what you mean.”
Dwain stretches. “Having such a beautiful sister is a big responsibility, one we all take very seriously.”
“Good luck. Look, even the king is moving in to speak with her now.” Sir Brien motions.
Now it is Dwain’s turn to choke on his ale. “This will end badly.”
On the other side of the room, King Certan hands Delia a drink. “Congratulations on Sir Dnovan winning the championship, Lady Delia.”
Delia accepts graciously. “Thank you, sire. He was truly brilliant today.”
“It must be your presence. Sir Dnovan was never able to get serious enough for the tournament.”
Delia laughs. “I can believe it. Motivation was always his weak point. When he does find a reason though, none can hold him back.”
Over in the corner, Dwain and Devin watch the pair closely, though they cannot hear what is said over the crowd. “Looks like Dnovan got tied up talking with the ladies,” Dwain comments. He stands. “I’m going over there.”
“Sit down.” Devin yanks him back down. “Delia can handle herself. If she needs us, she’ll let us know.”
“Look, now she’s laughing!” Dwain protests. “Why is the king speaking with our Delia anyway?”
“She’s a beautiful, eligible young lady. Why wouldn’t he want to talk to her?” Sir Conant questions. “If I thought I had a chance, I’d go over to her.”
“If she weren’t my sister, you’d have to beat me there,” Dwain agrees.
“Our king is not like you two,” Druce speaks from behind them. “Though very few people are.”
Dwain, Devin, and Conant turn, startled. “Don’t startle a man like that,” Conant protests.
Druce ignores the three. “It seems our king wishes to confirm something for himself.”
Delia considers Certan carefully. “Sire, what is it you truly wish to ask?”
Certan sighs. “You are perceptive, just like your mother. Where were you thirteen years ago, the night my father died?”
“Several feet downward, watching him fight several bandits alone when all they wanted was I,” Delia replies.
Certan looks at her strangely. “My father would never have…”
“Protected one like me? I know, King Certan. Perhaps he had a moment’s weakness. Whatever he was thinking, I was but a child then. If you want the full story, you had better hear it from Galen. He was there.”
At that time more guests come and claim King Certan’s attention. Delia leaves to enjoy the rest of the celebration, but Certan does not forget her words. Presently it comes time for the entertainment to take their places. A juggler, a fire breather, two singers, and a magician with his crew all wow and delight the crowd. To close the night, a bard steps forth to chant an ancient song heard by none for an age.
Dying flames, withered cold,
Coughing smoke, aging wood,
Barren fields, empty fold,
Who will yet stand where no one would?
None yet stand where only one could.
In ages past and ages hence
Free will and fate let fly their fury
On sentinels three fell kings fight
Forgetting from whom comes victory
Chilling heat, tepid frost,
Blighted forest, dusty plain,
Crumbling stone, collapsing peak
Stand or fall, it’s all the same
When none in hope pronounce his name
In ages past and ages hence
The Ancient of Days does make his move
Never do kings hold dominion of night
As Lord of dark moon shall prove
Darkened day, greying night,
Empty walls, forsaken gate,
Waning fire, broken sword
No warning heard, for none will sound
From a people within whom no wisdom is found
In ages past and ages hence
Then shall destiny meet the call
For fate’s folly is found in freedom
And the choice shall be open to all
Certan considers the words spoken carefully. That night, as the celebration waned, he makes his way to old Galen’s quarters. Galen had served his family as the castle physician since before his father’s time. There are none more loyal to the king than he. Certan finds Galen, assisted by Mernan, busy preparing several draughts of his foul hangover brew.
“Galen, what really happened the night my father died?”
Galen straightens, then began clearing the simple wood table. “Assassins attacked him. He thwarted them, but was mortally wounded. Before he passed he made the 13-year-old Dnovan and knight and awarded Dnovan’s father, __ Laine, the lordship if the western forest.”
“I know that much. What else happened?”
Galen nods. “You want the truth, then.” He sits next to the now-clear table, motioning Certan to the chair across from him. “You had better sit. It’s a bit of a long story.