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T. S. Church

Betrayal at Falador

ONE

“Get some light over here! We need some light!”

Master-at-arms Nicholas Sharpe shouted loudly into the wind in order to be heard by his fellow knights on the bridge. A fair young man ran forward, shielding his blazing torch from the anger of the winter storm.

“Thank you, Squire Theodore. Now, let us see what damage has been done.”

Half a dozen men stood around as firelight flickered over the fallen masonry. It was a life-sized statue of a knight which had come crashing down from the castle heights an hour after midnight, when the storm had been at its most ferocious. The crash had been loud enough to raise the alarm.

“That’s more than a thousand pounds of solid stone,” Sharpe said, peering up into the darkness from whence it had plummeted. “Must’ve been a wicked gust to move it.

“We can’t leave it here,” he added. “Get hold of it. On three we’ll lift.”

There was some jostling as the knights moved closer, every man packing himself as close to the statue as possible.

“One… two… three!” Sharpe counted out, and on his last call the small group of men lifted the marble statue with a collective groan of effort. “Carry him to the courtyard. We can’t leave one of our own out here in the cold!”

The men staggered under their burden, moving slowly from the exposed bridge toward the open gates, Squire Theodore lighting the way.

The statue will be safe there until the morning, the master-at-arms mused, as long as the damage wasn’t serious enough to break it into a thousand pieces as they moved it.

And as long as nothing more comes down on our heads, he added silently. It wasn’t safe in the streets of Falador that night; several people had already been killed by falling debris, and the quicker their party was back inside the castle, the better.

But the pessimistic thought turned to prophecy. A sharp crack, a sudden cry, and the statue dropped again to the paving, scattering the men who had lifted it. Only two had retained their grips on the polished marble, and now they held the right leg between them, detached from the rest of the figure.

“Get the torch back here!” Sharpe hollered, his temper rising. He swiftly noted the anxious faces gazing toward the courtyard. “Where’s the torch?” he called. “Where has Theodore got to?”

A sudden gust of wind, biting cold in its journey south from Ice Mountain, swept across the bridge. The squire emerged from the gatehouse, bringing the torch with him and carrying a heavy bundle under his arm. As soon as he reached the shivering party, there was a crack from above and a cry of warning rang out.

“Watch your heads!”

Each man instinctively looked up, crouching low in readiness. Spinning from the rooftops, a tile crashed onto the bridge and exploded on the stonework scant yards away, sending sharp chips of slate into the turbulent moat below.

“Come on; we must not stay out here any longer,” Sharpe said decisively. For all the statue meant, it wasn’t worth the lives of the young men who stood close to him. “Theodore, don’t run off again. We need the light to see what we’re doing.”

He noted the look of disappointment on the young man’s face. Theodore was an excellent squire; the master-at-arms couldn’t recall any better. Yet he took himself too seriously, making him an easy target for any of his peers who envied his dedication, or even despised him for it.

“I have blankets, sir,” Theodore said. “We can carry the statue on that. It will allow more of us to help lift it and prevent any more accidents like the last one…” His voice trailed off as a couple of the knights regarded him coolly.

But Sharpe nodded.

“It’s a good idea, Theodore. Pull the blankets under the statue when we lift it-on three again!” And as soon as the men around him had obeyed, the master-at-arms began the count.

“One…

“Two…

Three!” Each man issued a grunt as they hefted their burden.

A sudden flash erupted from the polished marble above the entrance to the courtyard, and once again the stone knight fell, the impact knocking several of the knights off their feet. One stumbled against Theodore, so that he was forced to loosen his grip on the spluttering torch and the light vanished as it splashed into a puddle.

Immediately, concerned voices called out in the darkness.

“What was that?”

“Are we under attack?”

“There’s been no thunder-it must be magic!”

Sharpe bellowed from the side of the bridge.

“Get me a light!”

Theodore crouched and seized the torch, only to find that it was soaked from the puddle. He was on his feet in a second, running toward the gatehouse where the night watch kept lights burning. He was careful to avoid the dazed knights who risked tripping him in the dark.

“Help me!”

A voice called out nearby. It was faint and unusual, and Theodore dismissed it, knowing he could not help anyone until he had light. As he entered the gatehouse, the voice groaned again, closer now.

When Theodore emerged holding the burning torch, he nearly dropped it in surprise. For lying not far away was a young girl, shivering from the cold. Looking closer, he could see that she was in shock from the savage injuries that covered her body. In one hand she held a strange flower, and in the other a golden ring, broken in two, that appeared to be smouldering in her open palm. It boasted a crystal clear gem, and an acrid scent hung heavy on the night air.

Her eyes, wide and dark, looked into his. He had never seen anything so…

“Help me… please.”

The girl blinked once and opened her eyes. Then with a sigh she closed them again, and her head lolled back.

Sir Amik Varze’s mood reflected the weather outside.

Freezing winds howled down from the mountain and The Wilderness that lay beyond, and his order had been busy dealing with food shortages and a desperate population. Though the night was black as pitch, on a clear day, from his room in the tower of marble overlooking the city of Falador, Sir Amik could see Ice Mountain in the distant north, a foreboding sharp pinnacle which could look deceptively beautiful on those evenings when the sun reflected off the frozen summit.

Beautiful, but deadly, he thought as the gale blew open a shutter. It struck the wall with a raucous clatter.

From his younger days as an ambitious squire and all through his long career, Sir Amik had travelled more than most throughout the lands of Gielinor, east to the borders of the dark realm of Morytania where even the dead could not find rest, and south to the vast wastes of the Kharidian Desert which no man had ever crossed.

Yet of all his achievements, he was most proud of his role in manoeuvring the Knights of Falador as a serious political force within the realm of Asgarnia. He had ruled in old King Vallance’s place, making and enforcing the laws that kept the nation safe. For two years the king had been bedridden, and Sir Amik had made certain that the knights had filled the vacuum before instability could threaten.

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