This story is by S.J. Siedenburg and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A feast of was being held for the whole court. Anyone who was anything was there, eating and drinking their fill of the king’s delicacies served by their servants. Food and wine laid heavy on the hall’s warm air, and the guests had become an ocean of ebbing shouts and laughter.
They celebrated the harvest. The king’s men had just finished collecting their portion of the villages’s goods, imprisoning anyone who couldn’t contribute enough, and now they feasted on their abundant spoils.
The king himself was at the head of the room seated at the royal table. He was a display of power and wealth, his queen and prince each at his side.
Further to his left sat a tall woman, his niece the Lady Iseldis. The men at the feast gawked at her, doing anything to attract her attention. The ones she acknowledged with a nod became giddy with delight, and the ones she ignored continued to be bold to the point of embarrassment. She herself sat still in her chair watching the room, more aware of the event than anyone else.
She ran through the faces in the room. The physician, the loyal knights, the advisors of the court. She had their allegiance in hand. The queen, quite sickly, was no concern to her. The king, however, was a great force with loyal supporters at his command. But he had grown comfortable in his spot of power, and the people had grown weary of his wealth and greed for their crops.
Finally, there was the prince, destined to take the throne. His face was red as he laughed, raising his goblet again to his lips. He was young and foolish. She would discredit his suitability to the throne, and the court would turn to the woman they trusted to take command.
These people lay in her power. She had been working to gain their trust for years. She smiled to herself. It would not be long till the throne would be hers.
A loud ringing filled the hall and the laughter ended, questions being posed instead. Two guards clad in armor entered through the tall double doors.
“There has been a breach of the kingdom, Sire,” one announced.
The king stood and began shouting orders to begin a sweep of the city. He rushed out of the room to take command, the prince and knights in tow.
The crowd began shouting in panic, dispersing to wherever they thought was the safest place to be while two guards assisted the queen to her chambers.
Lady Iseldis watched for a moment before rising and drifting into the tide of bodies, but she did not make it to the doors. She slid behind a curtain which led her through an arched doorway to outside.
A crisp wind hit her face and picked up her golden hair for a moment. She smelled wet stone and dirt from the light rain that had fallen earlier that evening. Walking towards the carved stone railing of the balcony, her maroon dress brushed the dried leaves lying on the flagstones.
She looked out to the city at torches moving as if by magic by soldiers searching the kingdom for the intruder. Their calls and shouts were carried on a breeze that caused the orange leaves of the trees to chatter.
The talking subsided as it had begun, but now she felt a presence behind her, a shadow standing in the shade of the wall. “Have you come to kill me, Durriken?” She spoke.
Footsteps sounded behind her. “Would you prefer it if I were?” The familiar voice said.
“I do enjoy winning a battle.” A smirk played on her lips as she looked out to the city, hearing his breath behind her.
“I think you’re confused on how that last fight ended, my Lady”
“I believe I had a sword to your throat.”
“Only after I removed mine from yours.”
“I have no time for those unwilling to admit defeat.”
“Do you have time for a friend?”
She scoffed and turned. “So we’re friends now? I thought you had too much pride to associate yourself with my kind? If you like I can signal the guards to save your honor.”
“I don’t need them to save my honor from you.”
“Then you are stupid as well.” She turned back around. He approached her side. A soft breeze blew against them.
“You know it’s how you intend to rule, not you that I have a quarrel with?”
“The throne will soon be mine, Durriken, and how I will rule is who I am.”
“You’ll sacrifice your subjects to get the power you crave, just like the kings and queens before you.”
“You say it with such disgust,” she toyed.
His brow furrowed. “I will not let my people suffer any longer.”
“Your renegades will storm my kingdom?”
She felt underneath a layer of her dress and clasped a cold shaft of metal. “Then I have no time for traitors.”
She swung out a dagger and brought it to his neck, but he moved quick as well, drawing his own. Now they each had a blade to the other’s throat, staring into each other’s eyes.
“Shall we end this feud now?” She steadied her gaze on him. Slow moments passed, waiting for him to move before driving her blade into him.
But Durriken withdrew his blade. “I do not hate you, Iseldis.”
She watched the blade at his side in case of a lower strike, but he put it away. She looked into his brown eyes, searching them for a trick, but there was none. She let down her dagger.
“You’re not like your family,” he said.
“Don’t presume you know what I am like. Just because I haven’t run you through doesn’t mean I won’t still.” Heat rose in her, fighting against the chill air hitting her skin.
“No. You’ve taken on the cruelty of your family as an honor. But you know nothing else.”
“So I am a creature to be pitied?” She laughed.
“No. You don’t need pity.”
“Redemption then? Redemption from the man who has murdered hundreds of those loyal to their kingdom?”
“I do not claim any honor for those deaths.”
“Then humor me. What is it I need.”
The creases in his forehead deepened, but a glint of passion lit his eyes. “I have no doubt that you will claim the throne of your Uncle one day, and in that day I hope you will rule your people with love, forsaking the hatred and supremacy that has blinded your family for so long.”
She looked out to the city again. Her resolve wavered as a nagging doubt arose, saying he spoke truth. But he had spoken dishonorably.
“Leave, before I call the whole army upon you.”
Crisp, wet wind pushed the autumn leaves across the stone ground. He did not move, and her anger grew too strong. She turned, grasping her dagger and threw it towards Durriken’s heart.
It flipped over itself again and again, a straight mark for his chest. Durriken’s eyes widened, he swung his arm and knocked the dagger in air with the leather on his forearm, sending it off course and clattering to the ground.
He drew his sword and held it up, waiting for her next move.
She stood still looking at him, heat pressing against her eyes, parting her mouth slightly to breathe. Her anger was no longer pure. A weight fell inside her.
The dagger falling had summoned shouts from the guard inside. Durriken looked towards the voices then back to her figure. With one call from her they would come in seconds and find their intruder.
But she couldn’t call. “Go,” she whispered.
He replaced his sword to scale the wall, but he hesitated. He turned and went towards her.
He looked into her eyes, a deep look which seemed to touch her soul. “Iseldis.” He reached behind her head and leaned into her, brushing her lips. He moved back, his eyes wide.
She hadn’t expected his gesture. She should have been enraged by it, but she didn’t feel rage. Instead, something had awakened in her chest, and she wanted to feel more of it.
She moved in an inch closer and he matched her movement, but then something clattered in the hall. She caught his eyes as he pulled away and turned, disappearing into the shadows of the castle wall.
Her throat tightened and she closed her eyes, feeling his last touch as the wind erased every other trace of him. He was gone.
A guard appeared on the balcony. “My Lady, an intruder has breached the city. It is not safe for you to be out alone. Allow me to escort you to your chambers.”
She inhaled deeply and opened her eyes. “Yes, of course.”
She followed the guard inside, sweeping through the dried leaves on the balcony, a last wind rattling the trees.