Avarron lazily rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. Bright light, fractured upon the sharp edges of a broken window brought a dazzling display of light to his face and he quickly pulled the blanket up to shield his eyes. A mere moment later he cast the banket off again and jumped out of bed. He’d slept in enough already, that much was clear.
The broken window drew his attention again and he apporached it barefeet. Any shards on the floor were already cleaned up. In fact, the whole room was remarkably clean for a place where vines crawled over all surfaces, branching of into multiple stems and entwining again later on in a fascinating weave.
Aside the bed was a massive drawer, which was largely empty, save for his own neatly folded attire. As he pulled the clothes out and dressed himself, he started to wonder: When did I go to bed? The last thing he could remember was the flames as the dark figure of the necromancer burned away.
As his mind worked to find an answer, his feet carried him to the other side of the room, where his armour was proudly displayed on a rack. He took it up and started to absentmindedly don the armour, adding another question to the puzzle: why did I bother with a display?
Determined to find himself an answer, he headed out the door, only to encounter an unfamiliar corridor, equally convered by vines. Intuitively turning to the left, he started to explore. The corridor soon offered multiple doors, of which he chose one at random, leading him down a winding staircase onto another corridor that featured several bedrooms, much smaller than his own. Most were as clean as his own but a couple were messy and clearly in use.
Voices and laughter filled the corridor with echoes and Avarron followed the sound to a massive dining hall. At the near end of an equally massive table sat five men and a boy, playing dice. The boy looked up and cried: “Well, look who finally dragged his lazy ass out of bed.”
“Rogan!” Avarron smiled brightly upon seeing the squire. Then he retorted: “Show some manners! And you know you’re not allowed to gamble.”
“We weren’t placing real bets. Besides, every knight should learn when to play the odds, don’t you think?” Cullean quickly defended the boy.
Avarron raised an eyebrow at the old warrior. “What happened to ‘defence first’?”
“You tell me, you reckless bull. Don’t you know you can give old men a heart attack by charging off like you did? And then I’m not even talking about the window-crashing,” Cullean replied.
“Actually, I did have my defences covered. Well, mostly,” he responded weakly.
“So now that you’re actually up and about, why don’t you tell us what’s next?” Neval barged into the conversation. “We’ve been sitting here gambling for the past two days and frankly it’s getting boring.”
Avarron fell silent, looking around the group in confusion.
“You´ve been out for three days, Sir. We carried you from the throne room to the best bed we could find. Some of us were worried you’d never wake up, despite Lady Nariain’s assurances.”
“Three days?” Avarron asked. “No, nevermind that. Oh, Angels, how’s Nariain?”
“She left yesterday. Ever since the fight, she’s been absorbed into some strange book she found. I don’t think she even slept, stuying the damn thing day and night. And then, she just left with barely a goodbye, carrying the book with her. Well, that and she spent some time at your bedside, whispering all kinds of gibberish. But to be honest, she looked worse than you did. I don’t know what you did to her but she had me tell you that it will heal. She even…” Cullean paused. “She said to punch you if you ever dared to worry about her.
“I thought we had a deal, you madwoman,” Avarron sighed. “Well, at least the lot of you decided not to die on me. How’s Tanac doing? Is Asratorix taking care of him?”
Suddenly the whole group looked like they had lost their tongues. Not even Rogan said a word.
“The good news is that Tanac is recovering well, thanks to Lady Nariain,” Cullean started carefully.
Avarron’s eyes narrowed. “What’s the bad news?”
“Asratorix is gone. We lost him in the battle. Didn’t even find a body, even though we searched the whole accursed forest.”
“h-he’s dead?” Avarron stuttered wide-eyed.
Cullean put his hand on the knight’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I know how much he meant to you.”
Avarron’s shoulders slumped in response as the old veteran guided him into a chair. “I need him, Cullean. I don’t know how to run a kingdom.”
“He’s gone, Avarron. Don’t order us to search for him because we already did,” Cullean’s tone turned more sharp. “As much as I’d like to give you time to mourn, I have to remind you of our precarious situation. You don’t have a kingdom. You have one castle, and that’s it. You don’t even own the neighbouring city.”
“Why bother with it? Only the dead roam there, if they haven’t fallen apart after Donash’s demise,” Avarron got up from the chair. “It’s not like we can do anything until Tueram arrives, so occupy yourselves in whatever way you see fit.”
“But there are people there,” Behr tried as the knight walked away and slammed the doors shut behind him.
“Fantastic!” Avarron yelled to himself as he strode down the corridor. “I just had to go and play hero, didn’t I?”
“Avarron!” Dann called from behind him.
“Leave me alone,” the knight replied.
The scout quickly caught up to him and pulled his shoulder, forcing the knight to face him. “Listen to me. I don’t believe he’s dead at all. We would have noticed something. None of us noticed his absense. We didn’t find a body, no blood away from the battle, nothing. He didn’t die, he left.”
Avarron shook his head. “Why? Why wouldn’t he return? Why not send a message?”
“I don’t know,” Dann admitted. “Maybe he was captured. There’s quite some raiders around.”
“Then he’s lost to us just the same,” Avarron replied bitterly.
“Perhaps, but here’s one thing you’re forgetting: It’s not your fault. No matter what really happened, it’s not your fault.”
“I should have stayed with you,” Avarron sighed. “I could have protected…”
“Nobody. You can’t protect anybody from a company of lancers by yourself, enchanted armour or not,” Dann interrupted, his voice turning soft as he said: “I swear, I thought we were done for. They had us surrounded and then they all burst into ashes. If you had been a little slower, there would be a lot more to mourn.”
Avarron slumped down on the floor. “But why him?”
Dann knelt down beside him. “Would you have felt any better if it was anyone else?”
“No, but I needed him, more than anyone else,” Avarron admitted. “I counted on him to help me with this. They expect me to be a prince now, Dann. To rule, to rebuild this wretched kingdom.”
“Well, we may not be the font of wisdom he was, but do not discount the seven loyal friends you have,” he cracked a smile. “I went… we all went through hell together because of some vague prophecy and you better make it happen now. You owe us that much,” he teased.
Avarron forced himself to smile in return. “Destiny is cruel indeed.”
Dann rose to his feet and pulled Avarron up. “Come, let me show you some of the things we found here. You’ll be surprised what resources you have now that you’re all royalty and stuff.”
Avarron suddenly found himself uttering a soft chuckle. “All right, you’ve got me curious. You know, you’re pretty good at this.”
The scout gave him a shy look. “Perhaps some of dad’s traits did pass down to me after all.”
He guided Avarron down the corridor to another stairwell, taking them up into yet another unknown part of the castle and ceremoniously swung open a door for Avarron, revealing an impressive library. “If it’s knowledge or wisdom you’re looking for, I’m sure there’s some answers here. And it’s remarkably well preserved too.”
Avarron quietly walked into the library, looking in awe at the shelves upon shelves of books and scrolls. “It’s bigger than Altraom’s” he whispered to Dann.
“It’s too big, I think. You’ll never find what you’re looking for,” the scout replied.
“There must be a catalogue somewhere,” Avarron started to look around, tracing his hand along the shelves.
“Before you lose yourself in here, sir, shall I show you our other finds?” Dann asked and already headed for the door. Avarron nodded and followed him back down the stairs to the ground level, through two more vine-covered corridors to a heavy iron door. With considerable force, Dann pulled it open for him.
The air was in the room was dry and the late morning light glittered on steel of racks full of swords, spears and many other weapons. The walls were lined with complete sets of armour, proudly displayed just as it was in his own bedroom. Avarron walked in, picked up a sword and made a few sweeping strikes, whistling through the air. “A fine sword,” he commented. “In excellent condition too,” he paused. “it looks like everything in here was polished less than a week ago.”
“Odd, considering the unliving we fought had rusted, archaic equipment,” Dann replied.
“Yes, but whatever the reason, It’s incredible. There’s enough here to outfit a small army,” Avarron said excited. “If only we had the manpower. I don’t suppose you found a host of recruits as well?”
Dann shook his head. “No, but we do have one more thing to cheer you up. If you like glitter, that is.”
“Come,” the scout grinned mysteriously and led him down to the basement, it was dark and damp, and Avarron took an already burning torch along to light the way. Their progress was soon halted by an even heavier steel door, with a massive lock. “We found the key to this, too. Well Behr did, naturally.”
Revealing an equally large key from an almost invisible alcove, Dann unlocked the door and used all his strength to push it open. Holding the torch in front of him, Avarron entered as large piles glittered in the dim light. Pieces of metal slipped away under the pressure of his boots. It sounded like coins tumbling out of a pocket and as he approached one of the glittering hills, his jaw dropped open. “Gold,” he gasped and turned around to check out the other piles. Silver, gold, precious gems sorted carefully by colour, each of them was a treasure to envy a king in itself.
He turned around to Dann. “Have you seen this?”
It’s like a dragon’s hoard from the old tales, isn’t it?” Dann chuckled.
Avarron shook his head. “What would anyone need this much wealth for?”
Dann shrugged casually. “Build a castle, raise an army, conquer a kingdom and gorge in whatever decadent pleasures one could desire. I’m sure the power-hungry would have a use for it.”
Avarron looked at him stupefied for a moment. “Remind me to listen to you more often,” he said as he walked back out of the treasury. “Was there anything else you wanted to show me or shall we get started?”
“One more thing,” Dann confirmed. It’s a bit less pleasing on the eyes, though.”