Oh God. Merciful God, what have I done?
Was it really only yesterday that Charlize put down that arrogant Ramirez? What a duel that had been... I was so happy when she won the right not to marry him. That's
my life. We're all friends, and I'm Second Captain of Antonia's armies, and Filbert's never done anything ambiguous, and Namia's just a cute, sweet girl, if lower-class. That's my life, not this... mess. Today is just a blur. A violent, painful blur that I can't stop remembering.
Could it really have been Charlize? They say sorcerers are powerful, dangerous, out-of-control, but she wouldn't blow up her own house, would she? She loves her family... she wouldn't.
Of course there was a search. An investigation. Everyone connected to the family was questioned; standard procedure. Damn him! The officer talking to my family couldn't keep his mouth shut. Had to talk about all the filth they'd uncovered. Had to name names.
We'd all spent the night with Namia, at her caretaker's cottage. Filthy place; I can see why they think she's a druid. Foul, dark smells and unlabeled jars of... things. Her "grandmother" was clearly up to no good in there, at any rate. I expect she's been executed by now.
They had come before dawn; it was just as well I hadn't slept. Nim made a dash out the front door--I'd told him not to, of course. It worked though--I remember thinking I'd need to take this squad to task for being so easily distracted. I got the others out the back; told them Nim and I would meet them in the forest by the old climbing tree.
I went looking for Nim, and before I'd gotten a hundred yards, I heard Namia screaming from the opposite direction. Doubling around, I saw down an alley who had her in custody: Charlize's brother Emmanuel. As a distinguished paladin in the service of the One, he outranked me--I couldn't just command her release. I remember standing there stupidly, thinking about what to do, when Nim almost ran me down.
"There's one following me I think, and two more with Emmanuel. How are we getting Namia? We've got to save her! Do you think Emmanuel would understand?" He kept checking over his shoulder as he talked, like a squirrel who smells a dog.
"No, I don't think he'll understand. We've got to get the guards away; Charlize might
be able to negotiate with Emmanuel. She's still around somewhere, right?"
"Yeah, she's across the street. I have an idea." Nim drew two daggers.
I still could have turned back at this point. Could have just walked through the alley to Emmanuel on the other side, seen that she got good accommodations, and used my influence to get her off. She's not the druid, after all, her caretaker was. I could have done the smart thing. But I didn't.
I drew my sword, beginning to spar with Nim as we'd done often in play, since we were kids. The noise drew attention, and when I saw the guards look, I yelled to them. "Hey give me a hand with this one, will you?"
I heard the shouted "Yes, sir!" and muttered to Nim, "so, what's the plan?"
The rain picks up. That's good; it'll hide our tracks. Unless they send mages, and I've got to think they will. It's not every day a high-ranking officer betrays his soldiers, brainwashes a monk, knocks out a paladin, and flees the city with a sorceress and a druid.
I can't feel the fire behind me; I glance around to find that it's gone out entirely. Not that I can see anything through this rain anyway. The others lie on the ground, sleeping fitfully. My jacket keeps the worst of the rain off Charlize, but she's never had to sleep on the ground before, and she tosses and groans. Filbert sleeps on his back, hands at his sides, facing the weeping sky like a dead person.
My longsword slid in so easily. The practiced move, the step, the thrust, the slight resistance as muscle and tendon parted before the blade; everything was perfect. Except this was no monster, no sorcerer. This was a man subordinate to me, who trusted me with his life on the field of battle. But he'd caught up with Nim as the four of us held our false-but-true battle, and went for a killing blow from behind, and before I knew it, the blade was gliding into the soft spot under his arm, behind the breastplate.
The dead man slid off my sword as Nim, the other guards, and I stood frozen in shock. I unfroze first, and as the other guards began to shout, my blade swung again. I felt the impacts, not enough to stop the steel. Their bodies crumpled; human blood sprayed across my arms; heads rolled further down the alley with the words "Help, traitor!" frozen on their lips.
Filbert had arrived just then, his timing as unbelievable as ever. I cut him off before he had a chance to speak. "Emmanuel's got Namia chained and more guards will be on the way. We need to get out of here."
Charging down the alley, I had run away from what I'd done as much as toward Namia. The three of us poured out onto the street. With no other guards in sight and me covered in blood, Emmanuel guessed what we'd done, and I knew better than to lie to him anyway. Grimly, he'd drawn his sword, at which Charlieze had broken cover and run across the street.
"Get out of here, Charlize," Emmanuel had said. His eyes burned me. "I don't want you to see this."
Charlize laid her hand on the paladin's sword arm, and those burning eyes left mine for a moment. "Just let them go, Emmanuel. There has been enough blood today."
"Lieza, they are traitors to the One God and to this country. I will take them alive if they allow me, but they must be tried before the Council."
"Emmanuel..." she removed her hand, moved to Namia, cast a mumbled incantation, and struck the manacles with the back of her knife. The shackles splintered and fell to the dirt. "Let us leave."
I will never forget the look on the paladin's face. Shock and disappointment quickly gave way to grief at his sister's betrayal. "I am sworn to uphold the laws of the One, Charlize. Whether that means jailing my own family or not."
I'd sheathed my sword--even if I could have someday forgiven myself, Charlize would hate me forever if I killed her brother. So Filbert, Nim and I beat him unconscious with our bare hands while his sister watched with faraway eyes. Then we ran.