by John Wood
Tiander smiled as the last lock gave a quiet click. He pulled the heavy door open carefully, keeping the hinges from squealing. Inside, he took a few steps to the left and felt for the torch set into the wall. He produced a flint from his bundle and showered sparks atop the wood until the fire sprang to life.
“This is such a dumb idea.” Cale complained as he followed Sophia inside.
“Then be quiet and shut the door so we don’t get caught.” Tiander retorted.
Cale didn’t need to be here. But once he overheard Tiander discussing his plan with Sophia he had threatened to tell the Bishop if he wasn’t allowed to come along. The ill-begotten luck that sent the young prince into Tiander’s life had done its job well. The boy had been a menace from the start, taking every imaginable chance to remind him that he was not the son born to a king.
Tiander didn’t know his father beyond a fleeting memory of a soldier’s return. The man had been a gambling drunk and died in an alley like one. And so, his mother gave him to the clergy, hoping fate would shine on him. He didn’t blame her in the least, choosing as she did. He probably would have done the same. She only wanted what was best for him. How could he blame her? As luck would have it, that was how he met Sophia.
Tiander took a step toward her as the light filled the room. He listened as she took a breath, in awe of the room.
Colored banners hung about the wall above statues of old heroes. Gleaming relics lay in the cradled grasp of the marbled ghosts, vying for attention. Scabbards adorned with sapphires and diamond, hilts embossed with rubies. All clamored for Tiander’s attention. After spending so much time polishing these very artifacts, he was no longer impressed. Lately, it was the history behind their heritage that held his interest.
“I’ve always loved the carvings in here.” Sophia commented.
Tiander looked at her and smiled. A room full of gold and she admired the stone.
“Why look at the statues?” Cale asked as he made his way among the relics, pausing to touch a golden hilt. “The swords look better.”
Ignoring him, Tiander walked to a new display in the far left corner and read the scabbard. Written in small, silver script was the name, “Alenci.” The blade had been named after its last wielder, a young soldier that defended a royal daughter with his life. Gently, Tiander lifted the blade with quivering hands. Alenci would be his weapon. Alenci would open the path to being a hero. Alenci would lead him to a destiny with Sophia.
“Well who do we have here?” An amused voice whispered
A figure wrapped in a dark cloak stepped forward; the torchlight revealed an angular face. Short dark hair matched a trimmed beard that looked sharp enough to draw blood. He held a large bag in one hand and a dagger in the other.
“You two aren’t where you’re supposed to be.”
“Who are you?” Cale demanded as he walked up behind Sophia. “Return to your post, guard!”
Tiander ducked behind a statue. He couldn’t afford to be caught.
The bearded man gave a twisted chuckle. “I am certainly not the guard. And no, I think I’ll do as I please, whelp.”
Tiander looked at the man’s uncovered dagger, noticing a dark liquid staining the floor beneath it. The guard wouldn’t be coming anytime soon.
Anyone who saved the life of a royal would be crowned a hero.
Abandoning caution, he grabbed Alenci’s scabbard and hurled it at the thief.
She shoved the startled prince towards the hallway. The man noticed Tiander and watched the crafted leather sail through the air. He dropped his bag and raised the dagger, deflecting the scabbard. As they reached the doorway, the bearded man reached out and grasped a fistful of Sophia’s hair while Cale kept running.
Cale didn’t turn back.
Sophia cried out, grimacing as the man pulled her close. A wet blade rose to her throat. Tiander listened, panicked. Sophia’s soft voice fought against the pain.
The thief glared at him. “Drop the sword or she dies.”
Tiander readied his sword, praying to any god that might hear him for strength.
“No, you drop the dagger.”
The man pressed against her neck, drawing a thin line of blood. “Last chance.”
“Kill her and I will run you through.”
“You’re serious? You think you can stop me?”
The man removed the blade from Sophia’s neck and tossed her to the floor as he shook his head.
“Not too bright. But that’s fine, I’ll let you have your chance.”
The man took a couple steps towards Tiander and spread his arms.
“Go ahead. Take a swing.”
Charging forward, he raised the sword over his head. The man clearly didn’t think him much of a threat. That could prove useful. Tiander thought back to the guards sparring in the courtyard.
Footwork, balance, momentum.
Heroes embrace courage and ignore their fear.
The thief took a lazy step back as he anticipated the chop. Yet while Tiander brought the blade down, he quickly spun with a strike aimed at the man’s side. The thief rushed to block, quickly raising his blade to halt the swing.
“So the boy has some knowledge!” He exclaimed, playfully tilting his head. “That was good. But dirty.”
Tiander saw a dark glimmer flicker in his eyes.
Faster than he could follow, the man raced the dagger along Tiander’s arm, spun the boy around, and shoved him away. Tiander reeled, listening to the wild man’s laugher as he grasped his bleeding arm. There would be no chance at winning; the man far outclassed his meager skill. Behind rows of statues, fallen from the recent clash, he spotted Sophia still laying on the ground. She held her throat as she gasped for breath.
Anger surged through Tiander. He attacked with fervor, emboldened by rage. But the man didn’t flinch, smoothly watching his movement and stopping the attack with ease. The thief shoved Tiander away, laughing as he tripped over a fallen display, a sword hilt jabbed into his side. Ignoring the pain, he tried again, only to have the man step aside.
Tiander let the sword’s tip rest on the ground, transferring the weight from his arm. His eyes burned and he wiped drops of sweat from his eyes. Fighting was harder than he had expected.
“Is that all?” The man sneered. “Surely that wasn’t your best.”
Maybe if he pushed a statue into him? The man seemed to nimble for a trick like that. Tiander gripped the hilt more firmly and thought back to the sword’s history, and the tragic fate of its previous wielder. Maybe he shouldn’t have picked this sword.
In between the shadows behind the thief, Sophia picked up the ruined arm of a statue. She met Tiander’s eyes and gave a quick nod. Heaving the stone arm, she crept toward the dark man.
With renewed hope, he readied the hero’s blade. Sophia life depended on him to keep the man distracted. They could live through this. He could be the hero. He just had to take the chance.
Tiander charged at his foe with a smile on his lips. The villain grinned.
The villain took a step backward into Sophia.
Tiander lunged, tearing the forged metal through dark cloak and into flesh. Looking up, Tiander saw his foe’s face. He was smiling.
Why was he smiling?
Fear gripped Tiander’s heart as he looked at Sophia.
Surprise etched her face, an expression he had only seen once, when he gave her the tulip. She coughed and stared at the sword piercing her body through the villain’s cloak. The villain laughed, pushing the blade from the girl.
Sophia’s face twisted with pain as she wilted to the ground.
“Did you think I hadn’t known she was there?”
The sword clattered to the floor.
The man sniggered as he lifted a hand to the boy’s throat. “What a poor, poor decision.”
Tiander watched the slender weapon rise for a lethal plunge.
An arrow hissed into the man’s side, halting the motion. His eyes blinked as he regarded the shaft. He released the boy and turned to the door with a weak step. He struggled for a second moment and crumpled to the floor.
Massaging his neck, Tiander looked back to Sophia’s motionless body.
Tiander watched, wishing for Sophia to stand up, and tell him that everything was fine.
His eyes drifted to the bloody sword, lying beside the girl in the growing pool of innocent blood.
Heroes always saved people.
A sharp gasp pulled his attention to the doorway. Cale stood behind the guard wielding a crossbow. He saw the shock wash over prince’s face.
Tiander closed his eyes and slumped to the floor.
I am no hero.