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Gathering Shadows – Part 7 March 30, 2013

Posted by techtigger in flash fiction.
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Grey gave up on trying to button his high collared jacket all the way up. A month of daily sparring sessions with Galen’s weapons master had broadened his shoulders and chest more than he had realized. The heavy, embroidered white fabric of the jacket creaked from strain every time he lifted his arms. “I’m not going to have to wave to anyone, right?”

Aurelius laughed. “No, but let’s hope you don’t have to sneeze. If a button goes flying and hits a foreign dignitary you might start a war.”

“Thanks Dad, you’re really helping.”  Grey frowned at his reflection in the mirror and tugged at the collar again.

Merina pulled his hands away. “Careful dear, you’ll ruin the embroidery.”

“Sorry mom. It looked like it would fit when I held it up,” he said, with a rueful sigh. “I’ll be forever known as the Bare-Chested Knight.”

“I’m sure the girls will like it,” Aurelius said but his smile faded a little. “You know I’d take this on myself if I could.”

“I know, Dad.”

His father had officially, permanently stepped aside as the leader of Cyclonis. Despite Galen’s best efforts, the damage done by the poison in the wyverns spines was too extensive. Summoning the barest whisper of Air was a painful effort for him now. As Galen had put it, ‘sometimes the body just says, enough.’

Aurelius had immediately put the leadership of their tribe a vote, and the outcome was unanimous. Grey would take over as their chief and war leader. In order to give him a status to match that of Galen’s other allies, he would be made a Wind Knight and granted lands on the rolling plains to the north of the city. Through him, his people would have a place to call their own in this new country. Everyone knew they could not stay Galen’s guests forever, and this was the simplest way to settle the issue.

Except that it meant a whole new world of responsibilities for Grey. At seventeen he would be the youngest person on Galen’s council, and the least experienced in politics. And he would have to do far more than simply be the speaker for Cyclonis. To be a Wind Knight meant pledging to serve all Air kin, to act as a defender of the realm in times of need and an arbiter of justice in times of peace.  Grey wasn’t generally given to nerves, but all of this together was enough to make his mouth go dry. He tugged at his collar again, wondering not for the first time if he might have done better to go back to fighting wyverns.

A polite knock at the antechamber door was followed by Galen’s chief herald, Ewan. “Everyone is assembled in the great hall. Are you ready, sir?”

Grey started to shrug, but thought better of it as he felt the seams of the fabric stretch. “I suppose I am.”

Merina gave him a hug and kissed him on the cheek. “You’ll be fine, sweetie. You look dashing.”

Aurelius stood up and gripped his shoulder. “Don’t worry, son, all these titles are nothing more than hot air. Just remember who you are, and you can’t go far wrong.”

2000 years later Grimm could laugh a little at the painful irony of that advice, having forgotten who he was completely for millennia. But on the day he was knighted, he was glad to hear any bit of wisdom his father could share.

Ewan led them out into a long, vaulted hall that was packed to bursting with Air kindreds. It looked as if the whole city was waiting for him in the hall. Grey tugged at his collar one more time and squared his shoulders, silently repeating the words he had to say over and over in his head so that he wouldn’t forget them.

Galen sat at the head of the hall, looking every inch the Lord of his domain in sky blue robes that shimmered every time he moved, mimicking the shifting light of a mid-day sky. His wife, Elena sat next to him, resplendent in a midnight blue gown and a net of diamonds in her dark hair that twinkled like stars.  Her handmaidens, dressed all in white stood behind them. The nobles of the Air kin stood to Galen’s right, their colorful silk robes reminding Grey of brightly plumaged birds. Their long black hair was styled in fanciful braids, with gemstones twined along their length on silk bands.

To Galen’s right stood the representatives from his allies’ Houses. Grey had not been formally introduced to any them yet, and since he was going to have to work with these people on a regular basis he decided to focus on studying them while he made the long walk through the hall.

The scarlet haired Queen Darendale of the Fire nomads was the first to catch his eye, (and that of most other men in the room.) Her snug-fitting, beautifully tooled leathers were just a small step above scandalous. The last thing Grey wanted was to make a fool of himself by staring though, so he quickly moved his gaze onto safer targets.

Next to her was her secretary, Dorian. His hair was a more reddish brown, and his clothes, while just as flamboyant were thankfully far less revealing. He wore an elaborate brocade frock coat over a frilled white shirt, a ruby crusted waistcoat and crimson knee breeches. His fingers glittered with rings where they peaked out beneath long, lace cuffs.

Lords Ice, Frost, Hale and Snow stood next to the Fire kin, all seemingly cast from a similar mold; tall and gaunt, with white hair, pale skin and pale blue eyes. They wore flowing robes in silver and black, edged with furs and studded with diamonds and sapphires in the patterns of constellations.

Earth came next, two stocky, brown haired men in soft suede jackets worn over breaches and sturdy boots. Gold threads were woven in a broad, patterned trim along the edge of their clothes and the cunningly worked metal clasps for their cloaks and belts more than made up for the simplicity of their attire.

The River kin were there as well, three slender men and women, all tanned with sun bleached hair, their clothes a wild mix of every territory their waters passed through. Next to them was the representative from Oceanis, a willowy blond woman in a sleeveless sea-foam green gown, with tattoos spiraling up over her arms, neck and onto her face.

Flora was there as well, a man and woman draped in layers of pastel fabrics, all embroidered with fantastical images of birds, beasts and flowers. A moment later Grey realized it was not embroidery, but actual plants growing through the fabric in carefully cultivated patterns.

Grey’s friends stood out in stark contrast to the rest, in their more warlike attire. Aradann was there for the Forest kindreds, in scale-mail armor made of intricately carved pieces of ironwood. With his dark skin and the carved wooden beads braided into his dark brown hair, he looked and sounded like a forest in a stiff breeze whenever he moved.

Tairwyn represented his small group of Mountain kin, in steel plate armor as always. He had added delicate etching to it however, with inlaid silver and gold knotwork patterns to dress it up.  He was twirling his long mustachios thoughtfully, studying his counterparts just as Grey was.

Grey’s parents took their seats to one side, and he was alone in the crowded hall.

Galen stood, and took the sword brought forward by one of the handmaidens.  He gave Grey an encouraging smile and addressed the room. “It has been more than a hundred years since the last time anyone was elevated to the rank of Wind Knight.  When I led the Air kindreds to these peaceful shores, I set aside this very sword, and swore to never take a life again. But in doing so I forgot something very important. I was given this sword, not to take lives, but to protect them.  I was reminded of that by this brave, selfless young man. Time and again, I watched him place himself in the very jaws of danger, not for glory or for love of the fight – only to protect those around him. His courage and self-sacrifice reminded me of my own oaths, and showed me that there was still a need for knights in this world.”

“To be a Wind Knight is to serve. It is a binding oath, one that will stay with you for all of your days. Do you accept this honor, this responsibility?”

Grey could feel the eyes of the whole room on him, and all the words he had memorized slipped away. The only thing he could think to say was, “Yes.”

He heard Tairwyn chuckle quietly and mutter, “A man of few words, even now.”

A smile tugged at the corner of Galen’s mouth, but he quickly hid it. “Kneel, Aurengrey.” He lifted the sword, and tapped him lightly on each shoulder with the blade. “From this day forth, you are the sworn Guardian of our people. You are our knight defender, our strength and honor personified. You will be the first of a new order, their leader.  Rise, Captain Aurengrey, Knight of the Winds.”

Lady Elena kissed him on both cheeks and one of her handmaidens belted the sword on him, blushing the whole while. Then Grey took his place at Galen’s side, with the roar of the crowd’s cheers ringing in his ears.

A binding oath that will stay with you all of your days…

Grimm could feel it even now, tugging at his soul. He looked at his hands, rough and calloused, criss-crossed with scars. None of them could have known that their enemies would pervert that oath, and use it to make him serve their ends. How many times had the twin pulls nearly driven his mad? To kill at his new masters’ command, or to protect the last of his kind?

It was becoming harder and harder to remain objective, to merely record the events of his life. He had only been freed of the Shadowkin’s thrall for a bare few months, not nearly enough time for the wounds to heal.

There may never be enough time for that, he thought, pushing aside the turmoil in his heart. So quit dwelling on it and do your duty.

The Shadowkin were still out there. Katya still walked the earth, and so long as even one of her ilk still lived, Nox and her family would be in danger. The answer to the question of how to destroy them forever lay in his past. He had to remember, no matter the cost to himself.  He had delayed long enough – it was time to look back to that fateful return trip to the Western continent…

———————

<- Gathering Shadows, Pt. 6

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