The servants of colorful liveries that swarmed through the fort corridors were too focused on delivering fine spicy wine to their lords to notice the hoary man.
He stood out with his black outfit. Only the finesse of his attire and his palpable self-confidence made the unwary servants to class him as nobleman, lower their gaze, and mind their own business.
He stalked straight through a dreadful aisle with rich hangings, futile in masking its military roots, turning left after a pair of burnished gold chandeliers and climbing a good heap of stairs before crossing a heavy yew door to the lofty part of the fort.
In front of him were two seasoned-looking guards of white guise, bearing the Prince’s uncrowned bloody crane. They noticed the man. One of them slowly approaching, the other sure against the wall. The musty man pulled a small knife out of his sleeve and the sure guard was dead yet before his stooge got the man’s blade in his entrails.
The man froze, waiting to hear if the fencing had made him. No shouting but that of the feast downstairs got back to him. Gingerly, he got to the metal plated door the two guards had been protecting and opened, inchmeal, the door. He entered the room.
Just as he expected, two men stood face to face between a wooden table dressed with a map. Merry gabble came through the open balcony at the far end of the chamber from a feast and assorted amenities for the nobles below. One, tall and twiggy, wore all white but for the uncrowned bloody crane he carried on his chest. The second man, of sturdy build had a simple coat of mail though of fine fabrication, topped with a pale grey doublet.
The Earl prided and knew himself powerful enough to wear a daringly light grey, the white being reserved to the royal blood. There had been heads chopped off apropos of apparel much less whitey. His Highness knew and was clever enough not to make a fuss about it.
The Prince, startled, began to give an earful to his servant “What part of leave us alone you d—”. He stopped as he understood the man in black was no servant of his.
The sturdy man, Earl of Grar Manor, kept his mouth shut and payed attention instead to the stranger’s clothes. He then found the wyrm-like dragon of velvet, an apex blacker than the rest of his clothes, that the stranger wore in his chest. A second one rounded the man’s cloak as well. “After all this time, then” said the Earl wryly.
The wyrm man didn’t bother to reply. He tried to restrain himself from erupting. Finally. Finally.
“You must be the Bishop’s son” jested the Earl. “What’s a bastard doing bearing his fleshmonger of a father’s family crest? It’s not as if the King would legitimate you!” The Earl rapped his fist at every insult with a contracted face, redder by the second.
The hoary man unseathed his sword for an answer. His blade was a warning for trained eyes. Of rich but sober making, it featured the man’s crest: a stylized thicket of claws, fangs and scales. There were dozens of stanced wyrms, intertwined: rampant, flying, battling, bathing an imaginary world with fire. All black but for a waisted chappe of solid gold. A Master’s sword. Something the Prince appeared to ignore.
His Highness unseathed and brandished enthusiastically his sword, jumping ahead of the Earl to kill the stranger. Their swords clashed. Blades crossed, their eyes made contact, the Prince’s radiating furor, the man’s of cold blue. The man in black felt the Prince’s hold weak, his sword too close to his body. He’d expected it. In a fluent move, the man shifted his wrist as in a brushstroke, elevating his steel, and dodged to his right, getting out of the way. It was enough. His blade had sliced the young Prince’s carotid. The princeling fell face down with a dull sound like that of an angry’s magistrate gavel, blood gushing out.
The musty man opened his arms. An invitation. The Earl took it. The hoary man ground to him, swinging his sword, playfully. The Earl passed over the Prince’s corpse without looking, his eyes pinned on his opponent.
The Earl swung first. He tested the man’s reflexes, hammering consistently his guard and stopped, pleased. “You’ve been busy” he said, in amused appreciation.
A dab to his opponent’s sword hand was all the man in black had to say.
“And you don’t fend fairly, so it seems.” spurted the Earl “Must run in the blood.” he said, munching his last words.
The man in black attacked again. A dash to the righ, another one to the left. He kept the Earl swinging his guard one side to the other. A thrust to the guts. The Earl stepped back. A long lunge to the neck the Earl barely eluded. Three more stabs in quick succession to his paunch. The Earl tripped. He found himself covered in blood, his calves up resting in what once whas his Prince.
The Earl raised his right hand, gripping his sword. A brutal cut, like reaping brushwood. The sword fell to the ground, hand floating for a moment before following suit.
The man seathed his sword and put his boot on the fallen Earl’s neck. He rummaged in the back of his belt and pulled a strange misericorde. He bent down and stabbed the Earl in the stomach. Once, twice, thrice, fourfold, fivefold, sixfold, sevenfold, eightfold. Panting, the man kneeled and set free the Earl’s neck.
In shock, the nobleman opened and closed his mouth like a herring. Their eyes met. The musty man placed the point of the misericorde under the Earl’s mandibule. A thrust. The blade broke through, and buried itself in the palate. He left it there. With a grunt of a accomplishment, the hoary man got up.
Leaving his Highness’ corpse, he grabbed the Earl by his feet and dragged him to the big balcony at the end of the chamber. The man looked at the ornated drapes at the sides of the balcony’s entrance, stalked to the one in the left and teared it off. Holding the drape on one hand, he approached one of the many tall candlesticks displayed all over the chamber and took it.
Back in the balcony, he fastened the candlestick to one end of the drapes, and the corpse’s feet to the other. He barred the candlestick between battlements, hitched up the Earl’s corpse and let it dangle gently until only the candlestick supported the corpse’s weight.
The stiff swung far above the feast, too high for anyone to notice. Yet.
The hoary man unseathed his dagger and jagged the drape with a flourish. It wouldn’t last long.
He put away the dagger and clothed in his black cloak. Steadily, he went out the balcony, across the room and through the door. He stalked down the corridor passing over the two guards’ corpses and climbed down the stairs.
He walked among the dutiful servants, out the Keep, and cut across the yard to the stables. A pungent smell of manure and thatch assailed his senses. A distant clamor.
His destrier was just by. A young esquire appeared between him and his horse.
“Forgive me, my Lord” said the young’un. Sounds of turmoil reached them. “My Lord?” muttered the esquire, growing in fear and suspicion. “I am sorry but who are you my Lord?”
“Who are you?” replied, stone cold, the man.
“My name is Mark Greville, my Lord. Esquire to the Prince”
The man in black nodded. He approached his destrier. The esquire blocked him again.
“I’m sorry but, humm, you didn’t introduce yourself… my Lord.” said the young man, stubborn. The shouting heightened. Mark touched the pommel of his sword. The musty man narrowed his eyes and unseathed his sword. “Your name!” shouted the esquire, drawing his sword too.
No ‘my Lord’ this time, thought the man.
With a mighty blow the hoary man threw Mark’s sword flying. He pointed at his neck with it. “My name is Eadulf Ormr, rightful Lord of Grar Manor, Keeper of Erroll Pass and Prince of the Northern Borders. And I’m here to take what is mine!” A strike. The esquire’s throat cut open.
In a swift move, Eadulf mounted in his destrier and spurred him to the gate. There were two guards, none the wiser. They looked suprised to see the urgency in the noble brute cavalcade.
“Open the gate! — shouted Eadulf — His Highness and Grar’s Earl have been murdered! I shall inform the King at once!” a mix of authority and carefully placed dread on his voice made the guards act purely on instinct. Had they thought the matter, they would’ve understood the foolishness of their actions.
The gate opened into a somber forest, and the hoary man was loose.
…to be continued
If you enjoyed it, or even if you loathed it, leave a comment and let’s talk about it (@ayeBats).