Just because I want to 😀
He strides down the wide hallway, hand just touching the hilt of his sword. It is more to keep it close to his body than with any real intention of using it – the people that he is shouldering his way through are ones he has pledged to give his life to protect.
And he knows he will give that life.
They do not recognize him; the filth of his uniform and the limp he cannot quite shed allow him to blend in with the rest of the destitute and dying. Hence the need to shoulder his way through a crowd who would – under ordinary circumstances – drop to their knees before him. Only those who know him most intimately would still recognize him. Most of them have since chosen to not do so, since he returned home.
Although he has had enough of knee-bending to last him a lifetime, in this instance he would gladly take it – there is important news he must deliver and this is only adding to the delay. It is a delay that, if it drags on for too long, will mean that there is no way of avoiding the deaths of every person around him now.
Not to mention his own. Lucas still thinks he is too young to die, and would rather find a better way out. The belief that such a way exists is all that has kept him clinging to hope since he fought his way through the lines to enter the besieged capital. Of all his escort, he was the only one to survive – it is a loss that burdens him more heavily than anything he has ever known.
Eventually, he steps over a woman lying supine on the ground to enter the great audience chamber. The room is just as filled as the hallway, but the ones in here are markedly different. They either have uniforms and swords, or are dressed in a lord’s finery with the attitude to match. The former nod their heads in polite respect, the latter raise their chins in disdain. They would rather he had never returned, Lucas suspects.
But as they will all be dead soon, anyway, unless he can prove their savior – something he highly doubts – it doesn’t seem to be a pettiness worth acknowledging. At least these people do not actively get in his way, and he can make his way quickly to his father, who sits slumped on the throne.
In the time that he has been away, his father has aged a hundred years; there are lines within the wrinkles and the color of his father’s face is one that he would liken more to a corpse than a monarch. Yet, Lucas kneels, bows his head, and waits for his father’s acknowledgement. There is a hint of doubt, loitering in the back of his mind, that it will not come and that his father will leave him to kneel forever, until the end of the world arrives and the cut of a sword is at his throat.
But then a hand – soft as a whisper – falls on his shoulder, and Lucas looks up. There is love in his father’s eyes, mixed with the hard taint of despair and regret. “I must have words with you,” Lucas says. “In private.” The things he must say are not ones he wants bandied throughout the room. The worlds that he has seen since his departure have taught him to disdain the world that he is presently immersed in.
There is a long pause, and Lucas wills his father to say yes with all his mind. This is not something he will discuss in public. Yet, if it isn’t spoken of, then there will be no hope at all. What hope there is, it is slender, and grows ever more so with each passing moment.
Finally, his father nods, and slowly rises to his feet. Lucas’s own rise is scarcely any less clumsy; it takes all that he has to not stumble against the pain in the back of his left leg. It is an injury that should have been treated three days ago, when he received it, but there have been far more pressing matters to consider. If he should fail, then they will all die, and would it truly matter if he goes to his grave a cripple?
Lucas does not think so.
They make their way – slowly – to the small door in the back of the room, and into the small room that lies on the other side. There are no chairs within, and Lucas knows that the discussion will have to be brief, for both of their sakes. Already, his leg threatens to give out with every step. Although he has trained himself to be a strong man, there are limits to any man’s endurance.
And Lucas has just about hit his.
“What is it that you had to tell me?” his father asks. There is a desperate thread of hope winding its way through the quiet words.
“This siege cannot last much longer,” Lucas says. It is not how he meant to begin this conversation, but the words come forth without his mind stopping them. “They are only gathering their strength. Another week, at best, and they will be through the walls. We cannot fight them. Not like that. We cannot win the war they want to fight. You’re no fool, father. You know it as well as I do.”
“What would you have me do?” his father asks. The man’s voice has lost some of its weariness and is again the iron of Lucas’s youth, the man he and his brothers could love and fear in the same heartbeat. “Surrender and give all of this up? Live out my life in exile while everything our ancestors built was torn to pieces?”
“No,” he says. “That is not at all the solution I have in mind. There is someone who can help us. Who can find a…middle ground. If you wish to see this kingdom continue, then you must meet him. His name is Frederick.”