For as long as I can remember I always wanted to be a hero, I had idealistic reasons and selfish reasons for wanting to walk this path, glory was my selfish desire, for people to look up to me as a savior, and I know it sounds like delusions of grandeur but I wanted it all the same. I also sort to make the world a better place, protecting those whom should need protecting. Both sides of me were for the first time in my life working toward the same goal, working as a whole, I was no longer divided, I felt like a whole person, I took a slow deep breath and smiled inwardly, just a private smile to myself, that confidence that fueled my every move came from knowing my calling. I may have been a little naive however as I considered the glory, while glossing over the trials I would face, optimism is wonderful however it can blind you to the obstacles in your path. I had always been a cynic but I let my guard down for what felt like the blink of an eye and that was enough.
I was the only woman in an all male regiment it was unheard of, I had had to prove myself so many times I had lost count, I was proud yet so tired of proving my strength and loyalty, most of the men tolerated me, others displayed their disdain openly, spitting whenever I walked by. Things had been a little easier of late as the commanding officer was a forward thinking man, tough but fair and I had an ally. Finally one man could see beyond my gender and believe in my abilities, Aldred, the world does lend a hand to irony his name meaning old and wise, he was both, not so old that you couldn't see his charm but old enough to look up to him, respect him as an elder, a guide and a protector, no one would utter a bad word in his presence, it was a relief to not have to be on my guard every waking moment, even sleeping with one eye open, I could sleep soundly, without fear of reprisal, attack or verbal jousting. I had been barely survived my first months in the regiment, they had been difficult, I had been near death twice, once at the hands of my own men, my stomach turns when I think back to those days, as it was trying, exhausting psychically and mentally but I had survived that hell, and I was still here. Staring at the ground I heard that familiar friendly voice ask in concern “what troubles you my lady?”.
I looked up into his kind face, wrinkles told of age but also a good life, laughter lines told of his kind nature, the scars spoke of his bravery, his ginger hair and beard full, he was lean but strong, towering over me in his basic military clothes. I smiled hoping to remove the furrowed brow of worry, he smiled back, he had a radiant smile. “I was just thinking of days gone by”
“ah child pay them no heed, as it will do your gentle face no good to frown, you have got to this station by the sweat of your brow like the rest of us, never doubt it”. I could never remain sullen with such a friend, he always had the right words and heart to cut through the darkness and pull me back to the light.
That night an alarm sounded, we hid awaiting ambush behind ruins of an old castle, I peered round into the thick forest, only greeted by shadows dancing playing tricks upon my eyes, no clear shapes, no sound but that of my fellows breathing lightly next to me. Then the shadows broke to reveal a lone man upon a horse, a herald, he held high the banner of the king, calling out my name. I stepped from the shadows, Aldred close behind me ever watchful “be careful girl” he whispered.
The horseman approached, he was an imposing figure, his horse breathing heavily from the long ride through the forest, he jumped from his horse with a resounding thud, he then looked down at me, I held tightly to my sword hilt, thankful and worried by my lack of armor, I was shaking, armor would have given away my silent panic. In a gruff voice he stated “this is for you”
Slamming a parchment into my hand, he swiftly mounted his horse and before I could question him he was gone, like a thief into the night. I relaxed my shoulders, stealing my nerves to open this document, what could the king want with me?. I slowed unfurled the parchment, although the message was brief, it was cutting with its words, it was a summons to the council of elders, they would judge my worthiness to remain in the kings forces, then the king would hear their wisdom and make his ruling. I knew nothing of the king, he was only a symbol I pledged my allegiance, sword and service to, he was an ideal miles away, now he would be very real to me, I had to go before the king, a sense of dread and wonder filled me, the council were not well known for their sense of justice, but what of the king.
The council was made up of 5 demons, all whose powers saw and judged worthiness by their perceptions, Andras who sort discord rather than to remedy it, feeding upon on anger, seeking ways to bring it forth. The wendigo was part human and said to be the most merciful. Prince seere is a sear, who was rumored to have armies on his beck and call, moved faster than any human man, but is said to be of good nature, also I had heard he was a beautiful man as was the next council member, Prince sitri, said to have strange abilities, he apparently was a deceptive one that I had to be careful around. Then finally there was Orobos who is able to see past present and future, without deception. They all bowed to the will of a conjurer of whom I would have to pray saw my side or he could twist the proceedings to his favor whatever he decided it was that day. So my chances at a fair hearing were none existent, I would have to hope the king who was human would be merciful however how is it that this king couldn't see his council for their true selves, the conjurer must have him under a spell to, so I had to appeal to him if I had a hope in hell. My head hurt with all of the possibilities, my fantasies mainly ended in my death, as I felt hope become a distant notion as fear took hold of me finally.
Me and Aldred packed basic supplies for our journey and took our horses, best armor and trusted swords, we left camp silently, only the leader of our regiment nodded us a farewell. We slowly made our way into the dark forest, in the dead of night it was hard to distinguish anything, the darkness here was thick and oppressive, we road for hours with no break, the woods felt as though they were closing in around me. Aldred could somehow sense how tired and worried I was, he turned to me “my lady I think we need to stop for the night, I can make a fire to chase back this persistent darkness, you are weary”
I would have argued but I didn't have the energy, I mumbled an agreement and we stopped, I held the horses, while he made camp, he constructed a fire, I have no idea how he could see but I was grateful. Tying the horses close, we slumped against the trees and watched the flames dance, it was cold and damp, my teeth began to chatter, I rubbed at my muscles hoping in vain to create warmth as the cold enveloped me, Aldred called me over, he let me rest my head on him, he held me for warmth whispering “you sleep, I will keep watch”