The Spoils of Allsveil
1 - Alexia
Months of fighting, and finally it had come to this—an evacuation. The City of Allsveil defending against The Empire of Dreshall. The Horse against The Hawk. My father, King Fieron Tyilasuir, fighting King Aiden Goththor at the gates of our regal castle. All because two men couldn’t see eye to eye about a small city being under one banner.
At that moment, I’d never wanted anything more than to be a son for my father. Especially while I stood in the high tower evacuating the servants, wet nurses, and maids. But I was not a boy or a man. I was my father’s doted-on princess. A girl allowed to swing a sword with my father’s permission because he was the monarch.
My mother had a sword of her own and used it in defense of my unladylike desire to hold more than a misericorde. Her blade was not tempered in metal, but its steel cut and the ring of her tongue drove deep. They say the pen is mightier than the sword. I’m personally aware that my mother’s word is mightier than a frail quill from a duck’s arse.
Mother kept sneaking glances out the windows. I could tell that, like me, she wanted nothing more than to be down there, wielding a sword against invaders beside our king.
Horrors I’d been told about in stories lay on our courtyard battlefield. Arrows stuck out from the chests and sides of our men as thorns to a rose. Not one man died with feathers in his back. Brave warriors, all of them, who knew they would never see past this day and did not turn away from protecting us.
Mother’s dark eyes expressed more fire than a hearth flame when she said, “Get them all out.” Worry tainted her expression even through her unwrinkled skin and hair pulled back in a severely tight bun. My mother, the queen, never out of place, never out of sorts, remained that way even in dire situations.
“Come, Emvery.” I offered my maid a hand and stepped patiently while the woman, who tended me since birth, waddled down the stairs one step at a time. “We’re under attack. You have to move faster.”
My mother drilled that sword of flesh with tone and timing. “Alexia, respect those who’ve protected you from rain and wind down to their bosom.”
“It’s all right, milady.” Emvery’s plump hand patted my arm. She always defended me—even against a queen.
“I’m sorry.” I took my maid’s arm firmly. She had a tendency to fall and was careful going down stairs. “But the castle gate is failing. We must hurry.”
Near the bottom of the stairs, Mother spoke to the guards assisting our escape. “Are we the last?”
The two queen’s guards, Clay and Heinsley, looked at each other.
“I asked you a question, gentlemen.”
“No, my lady,” Heinsley answered. “Samalia refused to leave her quarters.”
Mother huffed and spun on her heel, stomping back inside the tower.
Emvery held me tight, or I would’ve followed.
“My lady!” Heinsley leapt and caught Mother’s arm. “We must leave.”
The queen of Allsveil ripped out of her guard’s grasp. “Do not touch me, Heinsley. I will not overlook your inappropriateness again.”
Clay grabbed both my mother’s arms from behind. “I’m sorry, my lady, king’s orders.”
“Emvery, go!” I left my maid’s side and rushed back up the stairs.
Mother elbowed her guards while I passed them to get my Nanna, Samalia. A stubborn old nanny wasn’t going to be my martyr.
“Heinsley! The girl!” Clay said.
“You will address her as princess, or Princess Alexia!” My mother even now concerned herself with propriety. My practice in skirmishing with castle guards quickened my feet but while I could take three steps at a time, Heinsley, with his long legs, could take five or six even in his heavy armor.
Hands scooped me up by my waist. “No, Heinsley! We can’t leave her here!”
“We can and we will.” The guard’s rough voice rushed in my ear.
We struggled down the stairs. Heinsley squeezed my arms together while he leaned against the wall. I kicked and hit all the right places to tumble us both, despite the stupidity of falling down a stairwell. I was too angry. Too fevered in my desperation to get to my Nanna. We could not leave her to these plunderous savages.
Heinsley took my blows without so much as a grunt. My attempts became an embarrassment and after the eighth strike, I stopped. I didn’t want to hurt him or me. He was only trying to save us.
Clay held Mother fast by the shoulders, his back to the open escape. He was the brawny type that filled an entire doorway. If he stood in the archway, Mother wouldn’t be able to get around him. Not even if she crawled. Which, no matter the dire consequences, could I ever see the queen of Allsveil doing.
“Good.” Clay’s relieved face swept over me and Heinsley. “Let’s get out of here.”
Clay took hold of Mother’s wrists and turned around, engulfing the open door. A buzzing, the sound of a thousand whistles, then screams echoed off outside the tower walls. Clay stumbled back. My mother scrambled away just in time before Clay fell flat on his back. If it wasn’t for Clay’s size, we’d all have arrows in our bodies. Twenty or more bolts stuck out of Clay’s chest, stomach, and legs.
“Oh bloody hell!” Heinsley let go of me and leapt down the stairs.
My legs wobbled and I leaned against the wall. Heinsley pulled Clay all the way in and slammed the door. Thuds pelted the thick oak door.
“Clay?” Mother knelt to the man who’d saved her life and took hold of his hand.
Clay lifted his head. “Go, my lady.”
Dread shot through my stomach. The pain Clay must be in. Not only that, but in pain and knowing he was going to die. I leaned forward to force myself out of my locked position. “Nanna can help!” I turned and ran up the stairs.
“By God, Alexia, duck under the windows!”
Tears threatened behind my eyes, knowing but hoping that wouldn’t be the last warning Clay ever gave me.
The thousand whistles of death came again and I dropped and shielded my head. Glass tinkled. Arrows broke through and clattered against stone.
I ran up the tower of stairs until the next window. I didn’t hear whistling, but I ducked under the sill anyway. Five flights of stairs and endless windows later, I reached the top of the tower and into the sixth-floor corridor. Rooms were on the right, while the left wall displayed sculptures, paintings, glassware, and artisan creations of our people. There was no time to save most of the precious items. Only my Nanna and my people were more valuable than the items of culture. Empty corridors greeted me as I raced down the hall.
“Nanna!” My breath labored. I barged in to her room, not bothering to knock. “Nanna!”
No answer. I went to her bedchamber and there, in bed, surrounded by all her scrolls, sat Nanna Samalia. The wrinkly old woman nestled a book the size of a small tabletop between her knees.
“Nanna.” At my wits’ end, I crossed the room.
“And I’ll repeat myself.” Nanna’s jowls shook. “I’m too old to run around. Leave me.”
When I was younger, her scowl, chin whiskers, and wrinkles could scare me into behaving. Now that I was older, I searched beyond her gruff manner. I saw a woman born from a life that cut and made people wise to the ways of the world or devoured them whole. Nanna told me the truth, when so many slathered butterscotch or jam over the rubbish of innocence.
“You will run or I will carry you.”
Nanna pinched her face into a scowl. “I told Clay to carry you and the queen out.”
“Clay is dead.”
Her face never changed. Almost as if she expected as much.
Ringing of metal and shouts brought my attention to the window. I peeked through, careful not to be spotted by the enemy. Shadows cast down on the courtyard. Arrows flew. But not even their arrows could reach up to the top of Nanna’s tower. A hole in the twelve-foot-thick front wall looked like a screaming mouth with angry ants pouring out. The portcullis was breached.
“Nanna, we have to leave, now.”
The old woman flung her comforter and turned to get out of bed. “Damn guards can’t even get you the hell’s breath out.”
My attention went back to my father’s men. Every one of those brave souls was trying to stave off the attackers to enable us to escape. To fail them and be captured would not honor their deaths. Beautiful steeds of white, bay, and chestnut charged into an onslaught of enemy soldiers. We had spirit, but they had numbers. The clanging of swords reached my ears, the sound making me shake from anticipation. And then I saw him, my father, in his plate armor. I could tell it was him even from this height. No one could spot the riveted armor, the subtle grandeur, the meticulous detail in the gorget, breastplate, and vambrace, and say it didn’t belong to a king. And that king was at the front of the lines, protecting us.
“No!” He should be protected! What was he doing meeting the battle head-on? But father in battle was magnificent. No one escaped his flank. Soldier after soldier fell under his mace and sword. Hope grappled with fear, but my elation at seeing Father at his finest was a boon. Clay would not die in vain.
A man, in a suit of armor equal in quality to Father’s, fought against the tide, headed straight for my king. Some men avoided the two. The other king was certainly bound and determined to reach father. Desire to be there, to protect the one man I truly loved fueled my frustration at being born a girl. I should be down there, fighting with him. The two equals met and my father gave the man no soft touch, no breath to hold, no shield to hide behind. I recognized the emblem across the opponent’s breastplate. A white hawk with a gold eye. The emblem of Dreshall. For his salt, the other man took the blows and delivered his own. But the aggressor overreached and left his right side open. Father swung his mace and knocked the man down.
“Yes!” I hopped in my excitement.
The bird’s golden eye faced the sky and my father maneuvered his sword to punch a hole through the metal. A cry as high-pitched as an eagle’s ripped through the air. I covered my ears and watched a blond man bound from the aggressor’s ranks like a gazelle. Father looked up, and the bloody tip of a sword broke through his back plate. My eyes saw, but I refused to believe.
Father dropped his sword and I staggered back. The king of Allsveil sailed backwards and the window that let me see the battlefield now seemed too high to reach. My vision tunneled. My breaths came with excruciating clarity. My palms hit the floor. My neck could no longer hold my head. The long braid of my hair curled in a perfect circle under me.
Cool hands touched my cheeks. The wrinkled face of a woman who scared most men looked into mine. Her pitiless glare softened. Nanna, whose life’s ravages destroyed her youth but not her wisdom, was there to comfort me. But her face faded, and all I could see was my father tumbling down and the blood on his back.
Soldiers came inside Nanna Samalia’s room. Mother was there. Heinsley disappeared into what seemed a sea of men entering the bedroom. I watched with numb precision Heinsley’s extraordinary footwork as he battled to protect us. Our man, the queen’s guard, was both beautiful and deadly while protecting us. But Heinsley’s life’s work, keeping the queen safe, wasn’t enough. Seconds later, he too fell. My death was coming and I welcomed it. For the rest of my days I would not forget the blood on the sword and my father’s descent.
I stood for our turn. Mother stood in front of us, hands clasped in greeting as if accepting one of her subjects for conference. The men, solemn and wary, kept an eye on her, but their swords remained low. One man dipped his head and approached.
“I’m not here to hurt you.” He sheathed his sword. “I’m looking for hierarchy.”
Mother’s posture remained straight, her chin held high. “You’ve found the queen of Allsveil.” She held her hand, exposing the ring with our house emblem, a red rearing horse.
The soldier dipped his head. “I am Paul Cartell, King Goththor’s military commander. In the name of my Liege King Aiden Goththor of Dreshall, I ask for your submission.”
“Submission can only be given by my husband.”
She didn’t know Father was dead.
Sir Cartell’s face turned stone hard. “I’m sorry, but your king has been dispatched. The fighting continues despite the loss. Please tell your man-at-arms to submit and we can avoid any more useless deaths.”
Mother swayed but I could do nothing to help her. I leaned upon Nanna, my life ending before my eyes. Sir Cartell reached to steady her, but thought better and remained where he was. My noble queen stood her ground. “If I agree...you’ll not go after the survivors.”
“Agreed. Do you yield?”
“Stop fighting and we’ll yield.” Mother slipped off the ring in clumsy diminution of status and handed it to Sir Cartell. “Show them this.”
Sir Cartell turned to a man in front of the line and handed him our family ring. “Get word to our liege.”
The man took my heirloom in hand, nodded, and pushed through the other soldiers. A voice from the hall echoed through the corridor and into Nanna’s apartments. “Paul? Have you found anyone yet? This place is as deserted as a friggin’ desert.”
Paul winced. “Excuse me.” He turned and the men behind him stepped in line, making a human corridor and letting Paul walk past. Though his voice was hushed, even I could hear Paul admonish whomever he was talking to. “Darrin, women and children are present, watch your mouth.”
Sir Cartell and my mother had propriety in common. Said women and children had just seen a man killed. Why would cursing matter? Then again, why would a queen preoccupy herself with formalities while fleeing from enemies? But mother drilled politeness in me and everyone around her. Much like Paul.
A blond man, just beyond his gawky years, strode with confidence and bloody clothes through the corridor of soldiers. My haze of loss cleared. Revenge burned off the rest of my murky reflexes. I bolted from Nanna’s grip and lunged for Heinsley’s sword. The grip of the steel handle burned cold. Its weight was unfamiliar, but I was no stranger to this type of weapon. Heinsley’s sword wobbled heavily as I lifted the massive blade.
Dreshall’s soldiers were slow to raise their swords against my newfound weapon, laughing at my challenge. I didn’t care for those men. My sole mission was to kill the man who took my father from me. The blond man raised his weapon and a slight smile brightened his face. A mischievous twinkle in his eye scalded me more than a thousand suns. He pushed one guard out of the way and barked an order to “stay back” before metal hit metal and I swung, not as an angry youth who takes up arms in spite, but as the warrior I’d wanted to be.
“Alexia!” Mother screamed. But the name slipped past. The other men faded to gray.
My father’s killer barked words, but I heard nothing. My breath, slow and deep. My strength, hard and flowing. My skill poured from my soul. I was going to kill this man. His smile infuriated me. But it didn’t affect my footwork, or my strikes. He deflected blow after blow, but the art of battle guided my actions. I would not lose.
A force of nature slammed into my back and pinned my arms. Both my backstabbing assailant and I went down. “No!” I shouted. The tool of my vengeance clattered on the stone floor. We landed and I thrashed, wanting to resume my vendetta.
“Alexia, stop!” My mother’s voice shattered my cracked heart. “I gave my word. Stand down.”
“Let me go!” I wailed at Mother, the traitor to father’s memory.
“No! I will not lose you, too.”
I froze. Her loss of faith in my abilities, when she had fought for my right to take up arms, cut the flow to my reserve of energy. My father, my light in the dark, my rising sun, had slipped beyond the hills never to return. Never to see my wedding or hold his grandchild or meet the man I’d call my own. I cried for death. The murderer sat at the far end of the chamber smudging blood all over Nanna’s chair.
“I can see where the spirit of their people comes from.” He gripped his thigh. I’d struck him and hadn’t known. If I had my way, he’d be little pieces to feed pigs.
“Paul, warn the others. If the fairer sex fights like her, we’ll be crushed.” He flashed a smile my way. I scowled.
“Stay here. I’ll bring the barber surgeon.” Paul clasped the man’s shoulder and left.
No one spoke for a very long time. Swords pointed at me from every angle. Mother clutched me, but with my reserve depleted, there was nowhere I wanted to go. With little will to stand, Mother helped me up and we both leaned on each other for support.
Paul returned, and the men holding a seventeen-year-old girl and her mother at bay parted for Sir Cartell.
“Noblewoman...” Paul trailed off, asking for a name.
“Aighta Tyilasuir.” Mother squeezed my arm and we separated.
Cartell raised his eyebrows and proceeded to slaughter my family name. “Noblewoman Talliassher.”
I huffed. “Tyilasuir, Tie-la-ser, Tyilasuir.”
Cartell dipped his head to me. “Tylasure.”
“Close enough.” I crossed my arms. Across the room Darrin the orphan-maker, for I was sure Mother would be killed before me, chuckled. I hated him for it.
“Yeah, Paul, get it right. Tyilasuir.”
My hate bloomed to a full loathing of everything Darrin. He’d been able to say my name flawlessly the first time. That only fueled my desire for vengeance.
Paul bowed to Darrin and gave an ungracious smile. “As you say, my prince.”
That wiped Darrin’s smile clean off with an extra dose of soap-root. Paul, my newly endeared enemy, turned back to us. “Lady Aighta Tylasir, may I present Prince Darrin Goththor, heir to the White Hawk, son of Aiden Goththor.”
Mother pulled me close and gripped my arm so tight my fingers tingled. If she hadn’t let go so quickly I might have lost my arm from lack of blood. “This is Princess Alexia Tyilasuir. King Fieron Tyilasuir’s only daughter.”
Paul’s eyes flicked to Mother and he gave her a slight nod.
Darrin rose from the chair. He looked pained. Good. “Well, now that we know each other, your new lord and master awaits.”
Nanna stepped over to me, taking my other arm in a death grip. “Hopefully, the father is not as abrasive as the son.” Nanna’s tenacious rasp cut through our whispers. Mother glared at Nanna, but Nanna never shied away from a contest of will.
A line of soldiers escorted us out of Nanna’s rooms and into the hallway. Where before the halls were empty, now soldiers hulked about. They took no care as to what broke. The glass sculptures, the priceless art, the best of our people all became loot.
“What are they doing?” I said.
“Plundering.” Nanna scowled at one man shoving a glass chalice in a sack. He went for another item and I cringed at the sound of shattering glass muffled by burlap. That was one of the artisan glassblower’s finest gifts to Mother. I knew she loved it.
“Fool,” Nanna said under her breath.
Men roamed everywhere. No room was without soldiers grabbing anything and everything they could. My heart burned all the more.
We were escorted to the dining hall, where we had our meals most nights. It was the largest room in the castle because father wanted to…had wanted to…dine with servants and nobles alike, right alongside each other. Every man was a jewel, he said. Fascinated by the “colors” each person reflected, Father had wanted to know them all. He had wanted to soak in their knowledge, their creativeness. But even with my father’s geniality, I did not wonder why he could not get along with the sullen, stern, forbidding chunk of a man that now sat in my father’s chair. If I were on the battlefield with my king, this one would be dead. Cold gray eyes assessed Mother. I expected him to ask, “How much for the sow?”
I’d never met King Goththor, but this man was a king, no doubt—his air overconfident, comfortable with everyone looking to him. But he also looked devoid of any love. His eyes were hard. Much like the glaze of death I saw in soldiers’ eyes after battle. Straussler, our man-at-arms, warned me of men like this one. I didn’t believe one could be soulless. The king of Dreshall proved me wrong. His eyes skated away from Mother and I felt the stone in my belly lift.
Paul nodded. “Lady Aighta Tillyasuir of Allsveil, may I present to you—”
“Aiden Goththor,” my mother finished. “We’ve met.”
Darrin strode up to his father, pushed a chair out with his foot, and fell into the seat. A tiny spark of life lit up in the king’s eyes when Darrin joined him.
“Your king is dead, and your people still fight,” King Goththor said. “Call in your men-at-arms.”
“I’ve given you my ring and my word, what more do you need?” Mother clasped her hands.
“Which Paul showed your commander,” King Goththor’s cold gaze remained on my mother. “He thought you were dead and fought all the more.” He’d said it more as a threat than fact. As if Mother had given them the ring to set a trap in motion.
Darrin leaned over and whispered in his father’s ear. King Goththor grunted and said, “We’ll find him.”
Straussler, head of the Black Knights, was still alive. He had to be. A Black Knight would not surrender. They would avenge. All eyes stared at Mother, who said nothing. The span of silence grew. King Goththor flicked a finger and a guard pulled Emvery through.
Leaning toward Mother, King Goththor said, “If you want your maid to live, tell them to stand down.”
I grabbed Mother’s hand. Emvery trembled, fear in her eyes, but she didn’t speak a word.
“Father,” Darrin leaned forward. “Hasn’t there been enough for one day?”
The words didn’t remove that cold, dead mask on King Goththor’s face. Instead he ignored his son and gave the signal, a raised thumb, to slit Emvery’s throat. The soldier holding Emvery flicked a knife from his palm and brought the sharp edge to Emvery’s neck.
“Wait!” I stepped forward. Emvery’s eyes popped out.
“Alexia,” Mother whispered. I ignored her. The gray, lifeless eyes of a king who no longer cared for much other than himself stared at me.
“Blow the horn four times,” I said.
“And you are?”
Paul cleared his throat. “Sire, may I present Princess Alexia Tyilsure.”
Darrin snorted. “Keep trying, Paul.”
King Goththor did not look amused with his son or his commander. “And what will happen if the horn is blown four times?”
“The people will know that we’ve yielded and they will retreat.”
The golden eye of the hawk on King Goththor’s breastplate flashed. He glanced at Paul. The man-at-arms bowed and walked behind the row of chairs at the long table to the end of the room. A large horn spanned the wide window. Its pipe tapered from the mouthpiece and was long as a man was tall. My spine went rigid. For an enemy, Paul seemed a decent man. It would be painful to watch him convulse and die when his lips touched metal.
An arm twirled me around, a sharp blade pressed upon my neck. Mother yelled but I couldn’t see her. “What aren’t you telling me?” King Goththor whispered in my ear. “Tell me now, or you and the maid die.”
“Poison, the mouthpiece is poisoned.” But only to those not immune to the drug. Father had bested an enemy by the same tactic.
“Paul, stop.” The king’s baritone boomed down the dining room. I staggered as the pressure around my neck relaxed abruptly. King Goththor sprawled back into my father’s throne and glared death at me. His eyes glinted dire threat if I defied him again. The soldiers around me echoed his expression, disdain painted across their features. I held my neck. Red, sticky fluid coated my fingers.
“Clever.” King Goththor smirked wickedly. His eyes found my mother. “You have another mouthpiece? Or is that even the method?”
Mother nodded. “Four blasts will halt the fighting.”
“You do it.” King Goththor stared at me. “If things go well, I’ll let your mother live.”
I could hear the lie. But it was my mother’s life. I looked to her. With a pause, and her reserve back in place, she nodded once. I paraded down the hall with my head lifted, past Paul and to the horn. The closer I came to the window, the more I could hear the shouts of men, the ringing of steel; our forces were still fighting. All for naught. I could only hope the invader on my father’s throne would keep to his word.
“Stop,” King Goththor said. “You don’t dally to your death, do you, child?”
I whirled around. “What does it matter to you?” Before anyone could stop me, I blew four times. Outside, the fighting slowed. The clatter of swords dropped on stone rang in the air. Goththor’s people called out, my people shouted in surrender. The stench of death that had surrounded us for months still lingered, but the battle was over. I turned around, walked back to my mother, and stood next to her.
“You’re still alive.” Darrin smiled. He had the kind of smile a girl could swoon over, but he would not win me.
“The Tyilasuir family is immune.” My prim voice did me proud.
“Or maybe it’s not poisoned,” Darrin said.
“Want to try it for yourself?”
Darrin waved a hand. “Oh no, you did a fine job. A surprise to see such a talented horn-blower.”
Soldiers around me laughed. Confused, I frowned and looked to Mother. She gave me a stern look that told me to say nothing. Still…I expected to die anyway. “I could teach you, although you might do better if you used your other end.”
Paul snorted but regained himself. Some of the soldiers snickered. Darrin flushed and frowned. Mother grabbed my arm. “That’s enough.”
It was slow in coming, but King Goththor started to cackle. “Fiery like my Bridgette, that one.”
The soldiers went silent. Paul gave me a very sad look—a look you’d give a favorite goose before the hatchet went down on its neck. Chills ran down my spine. I’d forgotten about the stories of King Goththor. For every laugh of his, another dies. Was he truly that mad?
Still chortling, King Goththor said, “Take them back to their rooms. Make sure they’re comfortable.”
At his command, we were escorted out of the room.
The Spoils of Allsveil
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