This story is by John Stepina and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Hearing the battering ram pounding away on the door below, Allistar knew the situation was hopeless, he had no doubt standing infront of these chambers is where he would die; as the long time captain of her guard and the last remaining member, he had sworn an oath long ago to protect The Queen and her children to his dying breath, and he intended to fulfill that oath. The King had died just days before and the revolution was in full swing, the capital had fallen, and the entirety of the royal family had been killed, except for The Queen and her children. Now, Allistar defended their suite as his former friends and fellow knights, whom had joined the rebellion, fought to finish the work they started. Allistar knew if he surrendered The Queen and her children would be executed, so he stayed on the landing and planned to fight. He looked back into the room and saw The Queen tending to her infant son, that young boy was now technically King, although he would never live to see himself crowned. Taking a moment to admire her beauty and let his gaze linger, something he had done rarely in the time they had spent together, he settled his eyes upon The Queen, window as a back drop, the gold and red of the leaves on the tree outside framing her face like a halo, while the shimmering light of dusk gave her skin a seraphic glow. Allistar forced himself to tear his gaze away, he took a deep breath, made the sign of the cross, and knelt, not to pray for salvation, but to ask forgiveness for the sins and wrongs he had committed, the lives he had taken, and most importantly that he couldn’t save his queen.
Gwen sighed as she put Artur down, he would never get to be crowned not even a quick ceremony, their was no bishop left in the castle, they had all fled when the capital had fallen. Knowing Allistar was behind her, she looked back to see him on his knees praying, she knew he would fight to the last breath to defend her, he always would have, but now she couldn’t ask him to die fighting a lost cause for her. She looked around the room, her two daughters and her maid were on the bed asleep. Her eyes drifted back to Allistar as she thought about the years they had spent together growing up,her hand playing with the small vial of poison she wore around her neck. Funny how these things work she thought, her husband have given it to her in their first year of marriage at the Autumnal Ball, the ball would have been last week if the kingdom hadn’t been in flames.
Owain, Gwen’s father, had taken Allistar in when he was a young boy and her just an infant, they had grown up together; studying together, playing in her father’s garden together, and learning their roles in life. The two of them had spent their entire childhoods together and now here they were together one last time. Her focus was snapped back from the reminiscing as Allistar walked up to her and said in his gruff voice “Are you still sure you don’t want to take your children out through the secret tunnel and flee? If you can make it across the channel, another king might raise an army to help you retake the thrown for your son.”
Gwen stood there thinking, she wanted nothing more than to do exactly that, but she couldn’t condemn this innocent man to death. His only crime was being loyal to her, and her only crime had been to have an arranged marriage to a man from a tyrannical family. To be fair, her husband, the last king, had tried to change things, he hadn’t been evil and unjust like his father, or arbitrary and cruel like his grandfather. He had been kind and merciful, yet it hadn’t been enough to much damage had already been done. The revolution had started last fall and then a few weeks ago, at the onset of fall this year they had won two crushing victories against The Kings armies and used ‘The Fall of Change” as a rallying cry as the swept across most of the country, the last few royal knights and men at arms were killed, they now held all the major castle’s except for this one. She broke her gaze away, admiring the season in all it’s glory, the resplendent colours of the trees and the leaves on the ground, finally replying to Allistar, “No, a life always on the run would be no life for me at all.”
The door was cracking down at the foot of the stairs, as Allistar looked around, ready to plead with The Queen, to flee from the danger, he would stay and fight to the last breath to give her and her children time to escape. Thinking back to their time together his mind wandered, growing up and becoming a knight in her father’s household. The day her marriage had been arranged he had been there, and had consoled her fears about marrying a man she had never met, he remembered how hopeful she was that she could find love in the marriage. He was the knight sent to escort her to the castle, and The King had quickly put Allistar in charge of The Queen’s guard once he had seen the loyalty in the knight.
Still talking to Gwen, Allistar knew their time together was running out, they heard voices from down stairs shouting, saying that their lives would be spared if they surrendered now. Allistar had earned the name ‘The Loyal’ because of his fierce devotion to The Queen. Steeling himself for battle, Allistar thought the only hope he had in the battle to come would be the respect all the knights and men-at-arms, down below, had for Allistar, they had almost all fought or trained along side him, fought against him in tournaments, shared bread and drink at his table, and knew the stories of his honor an valor, due to this respect they would likely come one at a time and not use arrows, which would only delay the inevitable longer and longer, the end result would be the same, for not even a warrior as great as he could hold off a thousand men indefinitely.
Even though, Gwen was prepared to die she wasn’t prepared for her children to, she had already made plans for the maid to take them down the secret passage and try to escape with them. She told Allistar to say his goodbyes to her children, and then she did as well; slyly wetting one finger with her poison. They could hear the door below creaking and groaning almost broken, as the maid took the children out and they shut the wall behind her. Gwen looked at Allistar and walked close enough to be held in his arms, she ran a wet finger over her lips, if this had to end she would end it on her terms, and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Allistar, I know you have always loved me and it was a love we couldn’t share together by force of circumstance, but my husband is dead now and there is no reason we cannot share one kiss before we both perish from this world as well, my dear knight.”
Moving her lips to his and kissing him first gently then deeply, she only hoped there was enough of the poison, before loosing herself in the kiss. Dying in his arms like this was to her much better than watching such a great and loyal man die then having a trial and being executed. She could feel his arms wrap around her tightly, the only time this had ever happened, the only time they had ever been able to touch like this, honor, loyalty, and duty had always gotten in the way.
Tristan was the first through the door as it broke, the hope was he could get Allistar, his old mentor, to surrender, and to avoid further blood shed, the revolution was over they had won the old regime had been overthrown. Dashing up the stairs Tristan was shocked when he got to the top, to see The Queen and Allistar embraced on the ground, already dead with no sign of her children. Tristan looked out the window, at the changes happening as nature prepared for its winter, and wondered if the kingdom was ready for its winter.