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Fire Blooming

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Sir Alwyn raised his torch, peering into the night as he made his way through the underbrush. His falcon Eolhsand was asleep on his shoulder, her talons linked through the rings of his maille and secured to his arm with a leather lead. He nearly tripped over a root, grumbling under his breath as he righted himself. As tensions grew between Camelot and Escetir, King Uther had re-instated border patrols at all hours, and Alwyn had the dubious honor of being captain of the night shift. In the distance he could see the flickers of other campfires, studded along the border like fiery rubies on a chain. He rubbed his eyes and sighed, his thoughts straying to a warm campfire at his back and a flagon of ale by his side.

Most would not have heard the faint rustle of undergrowth in the night, or attributed it to the wind, but Alwyn knew better than to dismiss such a noise while on patrol. He aimed his torch in the direction of the sound, taking a step towards it. The forest remained eerily still, only increasing Alwyn’s suspicion. He drew his sword with his free hand, causing Eolhsand to flutter sleepily at the disturbance. Shushing the falcon, Alwyn crept forward slowly.

Suddenly, three men loomed out of the darkness, shadows etched in malicious lines across their faces and teeth shining in the torchlight. Alwyn gasped, instinctively taking a step backward. He was no fool - he could not win a three-on-one fight even in the best of circumstances. And so he turned and fled towards the camp, hoping he could raise an alarm before it was too late. As he ran, he untied Eolhsand’s lead and removed her hood, letting her hop onto his thick leather glove before she took off into the air. Alwyn kept a small scroll bound to the falcon’s foot at all times, and she knew to fly straight for the castle. However, his foot caught under a root as he ran, and Alwyn tumbled to the ground. An arrow whizzed by Eolhsand, but she flew with haste and was soon out of range.

Alwyn stared defiantly up at the soldiers. All three bore the black snake of Escetir on their tabards. From behind them emerged a man with long dark hair and a trimmed beard, the only sign of his station a thin circlet on his brow. Around him swirled a velvety cloak that seemed to absorb the light cast by Alwyn’s torch, wreathing its bearer in shadow.

“Now all of Camelot knows you’re here, Cenred,” Alwyn snarled, as the faint sounds of shouting drifted through the wind. He knew that Eolhsand would be easily spotted by the other camps, and that her flight would be a message in itself. The alarm had been successfully raised even if Eolhsand did not make it to the castle. From the angry expressions on the other men’s faces, Alwyn guessed they knew it as well. However, their leader merely chuckled, drawing his sword with a long metallic scrape.

“Excellent.” Cenred placed his foot over Alwyn’s torch, which was extinguished with a hiss. In the faint moonlight, his sword gleamed as he swung it down towards the knight.

To his credit, Sir Alwyn did not scream as he died.

 

~M~

 

“Sire, the Escetians have invaded Camelot!” Sir Leon burst into the throne room, bowing hastily before resting his hands on his knees and panting.

“What?” Agravaine cried. “That’s impossible!” He turned to King Uther, who was seated on his throne. However, Uther dismissively waved him into silence, and indicated that Leon should continue his report.

“We’ll set up defenses around the castle,” Leon continued. “King Cenred himself is leading the attack.”

“No. The castle is too well fortified to give me cause for concern. We must protect the surrounding country, in order to maintain our resources.” Uther scowled, and placed a hand on his chin in thought. “Our ranks have been depleted by border skirmishes - conscription is our only option. Recruit one man from every household to serve in Camelot’s army. We don’t have the time and resources to train more knights, not anymore. Foot soldiers will have to do.”

Agravaine bowed, before heading off to carry out Uther’s orders.

“With all due respect, Your Majesty,” asked Leon, “Do you not think the knights will be enough?”

Uther stared thoughtfully into the distance. “ ‘Enough’ does not win wars.”