“Where’d you get this? Who are you anyway? Lower yer hood!” the guard snapped, holding his halberd tighter, his knuckles turning white. Sighing, the rider pulled off his hood to reveal a scarred face of a middle aged man, with bright red hair hanging down to the nape of his neck. He had a neatly trimmed beard and dark eyes like the eyes of a hawk. Both of the guards’ eyes grew wide in amazement. “Lord Reynor…” the smaller guard trailed off in amazement, nearly dropping his halberd.
“My lord, we had no idea you-” began the other guard.
“That’s quite all right. May I come in now?” Reynor said, as if there was nothing amiss, “I’ll be assuming that you’ve finished identifying me, have you not?” he asked the guards who were staring at him, still open mouthed.
“Yes, my lord,” they managed after a short pause, “Will you be requirin’ an escort?”
“No, I’ll be quite all right.” he replied, a faint smile playing on his lips.
With that, Reynor entered the castle. Even though dressed warmly, he still shivered in the cold as he asked a stableboy for directions.
“The keep? It’s that way, sir,” the boy replied, pointing in the general direction, “You take the Northern gate, go ’round the blacksmith’s workshop and you’ll see a long staircase. Go up the staircase and turn halfway ’round the second walls and take the gate there. Behind the gates is the keep.”
Reynor thanked him quickly and gave the stableboy his black stallion. Then he began to trudge towards the keep. As he walked, he noticed how many army tents were pitched beyond the inner walls. There seemed to be at least fifty of the violets tents and soldiers on either side of him were either drilling diligently or taking short breaks. Nobody took much notice of the figure in crimson as Reynor strode across to the inner gate that led to the keep. Once again, he was hailed at the gates by two different guards, dressed in rich purple garments and carrying the King”s Coat of Arms over their heavy chainmail. It depicted a white sword arched upwards toward a white sun, on a bright purple field.
“And who may you be?” asked one of the guards.
“Damn, do all of you have some kind of script every time a stranger strolls up?” the lord said under his breath.
“What’s that you’re mutterin’ about? Look, there are no mercenaries allowed beyond these gates. Those were King Aldwyn’s orders and you should know that by now. Unless…” the guard trailed off, his face darkening.
“Unless what?” Reynor took a step backwards, “I expect a better tone when addressing a lord, soldier! And I, if your wit is as small as your head, am Lord Reynor!”
“Never ‘eard of ‘im. This is your last chance to-” the guard was interrupted by a familiar voice behind Reynor.
“It’s all right, Tom. He’s with me.”
He was led through the gates before the owner of the voice revealed itself. A tall elegant woman with jet black hair streaming down her back and two swords sheathed in her scabbards stood in the snow next to him.
“Sera! What are you doing here?” Reynor asked, intrigued by the sudden turn of events, “The last time I saw you was in the Niche Fount, fighting the Easterners with us.” his brows furrowed. “How did you escape them, Sera?”
“The Easterners?” she asked, casting furtive glances and not looking him in the eyes.
“No, not the Easterners. Them.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about…”
“We both know that’s a lie. There were hordes-“Sera pulled him roughly behind a hay cart.
“I don’t know what you are already aware of but you should hold your tongue or you don’t want to risk losing it,” she said in an urgent whisper, “Now, follow me to the king and stay silent unless asked to speak.”
Bewildered, Reynor silently followed suit through the snow covered gardens.
To be continued…