“Shouldn’t the Captain of the Guards be out…guarding…something?”
Ajie moved to pass the tall figure blocking his way through the corridor, but Eijivar matched him step-for-step, waving his hand like he wanted to swat Ajie down the hallway and back to the grounds outside. Ajie stopped.
“Well? You are the Captain of the Guard…of Many Guards. Certainly, there is something out there you need to watch over?”
Eijivar ran a hand down his long, blond hair and brushed it over the silver-scrolled, emerald fabric of his fitted vest, as if to flick off the imaginary dirt that Ajie had dragged in from the forest. His two, male Valdaren companions, similarly dressed to Eijivar, chuckled. Eijivar looked back at them furiously and nodded his head for them to leave. The look silenced them, and they both walked away. He turned back to Ajie and scowled.
Ajie, dressed in the plain greens and browns of the Guard, looked out of place in the Halls of the Great King. The bow and arrows strapped to his back and the sword and daggers sheathed on his belt spoke to his purpose. The dirt on his boots and sweat on his brow testified to the lands he had already patrolled that night. The shoulder-length, brown curls that adorned his head belied his Valdaren blood. He stared back at Eijivar.
“There is nothing in these halls or in this city for that matter, in need of your presence. If the guards are doing their jobs outside, then they have absolutely no need to drag their dirty feet down these pristine corridors.”
Eijivar took a step toward him. Ajie responded by placing his hand on the handle of his sword.
“I have been summoned by the Great King. If you have a problem with that, take it up with him.”
“Summoned? For what purpose?”
“You are welcome to join me, provided you aren’t afraid of a little dirt, Eijivar.”
Ajie walked past Eijivar, bumping his side with his shoulder as he passed. Eijivar spun and caught up to Ajie, keeping pace alongside him.
“Summoned for what?” he insisted as they walked.
“Take it up with the King,” Ajie retorted.
“I will take it up with you!”
He grabbed hold of Ajie’s arm. Ajie stopped and pulled his arm free, grabbing his sword and pointing it to Eijivar’s chest before the man had a chance to react. Eijivar spread his hands wide and grinned.
“Ever the quick one,” Eijivar mocked.
“It’s why I have been summoned,” he said with a grin, and he put his sword back in its sheath. “For that…and other reasons. Take it up with the King if you don’t like it.”
Eijivar kept pace with him as they continued walking. They turned down several corridors, and then Ajie stopped. Ahead was a closed door with a guard on either side. Unlike the Guard that patrolled the lands outside of the City of the Great King, these men were dressed in fitted shirts and vests in dark blues and greens, in similar fashion to Eijivar, but without the fancy scrolling. They were armed with swords but nothing else. Ajie grabbed hold of Eijivar’s arm.
“What you discuss with the King is between the two of you, but this task is given to me. If you try to interfere, I will stop you,” Ajie responded.
“Then it involves her.”
“You are going to accompany Lorien somewhere? This time of night?”
Eijivar took hold of the front of Ajie’s vest.
“Where? Where are you taking her?” Eijivar insisted.
Ajie pushed Eijivar’s hand away.
“I am not taking her anywhere. I am to accompany her. And I don’t know where. As I said, you can ask the King yourself. I am warning you, do NOT interfere.”
Ajie walked up to the guard and bowed, and they returned his bow and opened the door. Ajie entered the room, and Eijivar followed him. They both stopped, puzzled, as soon as they saw Lorien and the King, and neither of them remembered to bow. To their surprise, Lorien was dressed in the dark browns and greens of the guard. She had a bow and quiver full of arrows strapped over her back, and a thin sword and dagger sheathed in holders strapped to her waist. She wore old boots of the guard that rose just above her ankles. The King nodded to the two men and motioned them into the room. The door was closed behind them.
“What is going on?” Eijivar asked. “You are allowing her to leave…like…like…?”
He waved his hand in the direction of Lorien. She glared back at him, furious.
“Like what?” she asked.
“Like a common guard,” he answered, returning her angry glare.
“What is going on?”
“Lorien has business outside of our lands. Ajie will be accompanying her. Would you have her leave the Northern Realm in flowing, silver-scrolled gown and slippers?”
He grinned at Lorien, and he winked at her. He was tall and strong; and, his long, white hair, the only testimony to his age, shined in the moonlight on the open terrace where he stood. Lorien found herself fighting the urge to hide in the protective fold of his arms, but the feeling was fleeting, quickly replaced by her curiosity regarding the events soon to unfold.
“I would not have her LEAVE the safety of the Northern Realm at all. I would certainly not allow her to run wild in the night like a common guard. She is the daughter of the Great King!”
“Yes, I am aware,” responded the King. “I don’t recall summoning you, Eijivar, but please, have a seat.”
He extended his arm to the table in the center of the balcony. Eijivar did not move.
“Ajie, follow her,” the King stated firmly. “Do not leave her side. Once you pass through the gates and out of our lands, move swiftly. She knows the way. Keep your eyes sharply tuned. There are shadows moving beyond our lands…”
He stared at Ajie, who bowed in acknowledgement.
“Lorien…” he said more softly.
“I will be careful, Father. Besides, I’ve already been wounded once tonight. How much mischief can he cause?”
“Plenty, but it is not HE who concerns me,” the King said, hesitating for a moment and nodding toward the door.
Lorien needed no further encouragement. She turned and hastened out of the doorway and down the long corridor, Ajie following at her heels. Eijivar stood by silently and waited until they were out of earshot.
“Do you not think,” Eijivar stated, carefully measuring each word, “that it is beneath the status of the daughter of the Great King to run like a wild thing in the night? And with a member of the common guard, for that matter?”
“Ajie has extraordinary eyes. He will spot trouble long before it spots them, and there is no COMMON guard, as you put it, who is more skilled than he,” the King responded calmly. “Lest you forget, by my hands he long ago was made Captain of many of the King’s Guards.”
The King sat at the table on the balcony and motioned for Eijivar to join him. He watched the pathway leading to the forest, hoping to catch a glimpse of Lorien. He spoke to his guest without turning his head.
“Neither the will of a Great King nor the lust of a Valdaren prince can alter the ground that she must travel.”
“Lust?” Eijivar asked, astonished.
“Long have I…,” Eijivar protested.
“Long have you lusted. You have lusted her beauty and position my daughter possesses. I caution you, Eijivar, they are hers. She is free to share them as she wills, or not.”
“I do not…”
Two figures emerged from a ground patio and moved rapidly along the path toward the woods. The slender figure with long, dark hair walked in the lead. Ajie followed, matching her steps. They passed the tree line and disappeared into the woods.
Eijivar walked to the table and sat across from the King. He looked out toward the path that the King was still watching, then turned back to the King and leaned forward across the table.
“You belittle my feelings for your daughter by reducing them to lust. Long have I cared deeply for her. How can you allow her to wander out of our lands like that? And with him?”
The King looked at Eijivar and sighed.
“It was her choice.”
Eijivar sat back in his seat and folded his arms across his chest.
“I see. You had nothing to say about it?”
The King laughed.
“I always have something to say about it. In this case, I agreed with her. Ajie has keen eyes and a quick draw. They must travel swiftly and keep out of sight. He was the correct man for the job.”
“I would have willingly traveled with her. I’m a stronger with the sword than Ajie, and I am…”
“You are what?”
“A true Valdaren of the Northern Realm…one of her kind.”
The King laughed again.
“Ajie is a distant cousin of a lesser family born far from these lands. No matter how many Guards you make him Captain of, nothing will change that,” Eijivar’s words bit through the cool night air with hot bitterness.
“Jealously does not suit you.”
“I am not…”
The King held up his hand and stopped Eijivar.
“Time alone will reveal your intentions toward Lorien. It will sift you by its own moving measure, as it does us all. Do not profess to me. Save your words for her, if she will hear them. I have answered. She is free to choose a suitor, or to choose no suiter. This night, she chose a protector, and she chose well.”
“I do not…”
“I know what you would say. Eijivar, you are a noble and trusted warrior, a fighter second to none, but you have much to learn. You have chosen to grace my presence this night, my old friend. As it happens, Lorien’s test has just begun. I believe it is the beginning of your test as well. We have business to discuss.”
Chapter 4, The Captain of the Guards, from The Legend of the Lumenstones: The Lightbearer
words and cover art © 2017 Tanya Cliff
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