Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Dagger
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Dagger Beyond the Binary

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The sound of swords clashing faded into the background as Crow put distance between himself and the rest of the party. He huffed, wrestling his wild breath under control while he watched the trees around him for signs that any of the mercenaries had taken chase. In the back of his mind, he knew it was a bad idea to isolate himself from his guards. Chances were high that he was their target, since they had been riding to Younis in order for him to negotiate with the foreign king. If any of the killers realized he was alone, there wasn’t much he could do to fend them off with only a pair of daggers at his disposal.

However, it was a risk he was willing to take when he had Otto within his line of sight. The missing baron had a lead on him, but the former thief had more experience navigating forests in the thick of a pursuit. Even though he wasn’t used to being on this end of a chase, he wove through the trees with muscle memory that flooded through him like a wave, and the meters between them decreased quickly until he could see the whites of the other man’s eyes when he looked over his shoulder.

It didn’t take long for him to close the gap completely. As soon as he had the noble within reach, Crow leapt to tackle him, and they both collapsed into the brush. Otto let out a surprised cry and grunted as he hit the ground. His body broke the viceroy’s fall, so for a moment he laid dazed. The armor he was wearing—different than the glistening, ceremonial garb he’d been sporting before he’d disappeared, the former thief noticed—had protected him from any serious injuries though. He only needed to get his breath back after the impact, and once he had it, he writhed underneath Crow’s grasp. “Let me go, you filthy cur!”

If there had been any doubt in Crow’s mind that Otto still thought of him as a criminal, it was gone now. All pretense of respect had fled from his tongue, and his true colors had risen to the surface. The viceroy scoffed and took the baron’s wrists in his hands, pressing them into the grass while he sat in a way to pin him down with his weight. “Not until you tell me what you were doing with those mercenaries,” he demanded.

Otto struggled against him, but he wasn’t the frail, malnourished prisoner he had been two years ago. With the strength that came from a healthy, well-built body, he held the other man down with ease. “I don’t have all day,” he barked impatiently, letting go of one of the knight’s arms to draw a dagger from underneath his cloak. He touched the edge of the weapon to the other man’s throat and leaned over his head with narrowed eyes. “Either you tell me why you’re working with those murderers, or I tell the others we have one less enemy to deal with on our way to the castle.”

It was an empty threat of course. While he had improved in his ability to fight and stomach the sight of blood, he still didn’t like the thought of killing another person without doing so to defend himself or someone else. He also squirmed internally at the thought of telling Rayner that he’d cut his father’s throat, since the lieutenant was insisting Otto wasn’t a bad guy. Ending his life wasn’t in the cards, but because of his reputation as a criminal, he was sure the baron wouldn’t expect him to have a moral compass. He could use the older man’s assumptions against him. If Otto wanted to look at him like a villain, then he was happy to act out the role.

The ploy seemed to work too, as the knight stiffened at the feeling of the cold blade against his skin. A few heartbeats passed as he considered the viceroy’s options before he squeezed his eyes shut and hissed, “It isn’t my choice.”

Crow furrowed his brows, “What was that?”

“I said this isn’t my choice!” Otto repeated himself a little louder, his eyes darting to the nearest trees as if he was afraid of being overheard. “Now let me go. If I’m seen like this, they’ll kill me and my family.”

That wasn’t the answer Crow had been expecting. He pursed his lips, perplexed. It was difficult to tell if the baron was being honest with him or if he was just making up a lie to escape. “Why should I believe you?” he asked sharply, measuring his voice to avoid giving the other man any hint that he was swayed.

“Because I’m telling you the truth, you stupid peasant!” Otto snarled. “You think I wanted to help them sabotage the king’s plans? I have been loyal to Albin long before he was even crowned! They ordered me to assist their ambush weeks ago and said that if I refused, they would kill Rayner and my wife.”

“Weeks ago?” Crow echoed, his heart hammering against his ribs. If Otto was telling the truth, that meant the men had approached the baron while they were still in the citadel. He wondered if that was why he’d seen one of the mercenaries in Bellmare. However, the knight’s response still gave him more questions than answers. “The king was going to send me to Gorm until only a few days ago. Do they not want negotiations to happen with either kingdom?”

“No,” Otto shook his head. “Their plans changed when King Albin’s did. You weren’t supposed to be the target.”

“Who was?”

“That, I don’t know. I was only told that the ambush was to take place inside the citadel and that I was to help them get past the walls.”

Crow fell quiet for a moment and then went on in a lower voice. “I’ve dealt with these men before. They didn’t speak our language… How have they been giving you these orders?”

At that, Otto chuckled in a way that sent a chill across the viceroy’s skin. It was an empty laugh that was half defeated, half incredulous, and the words that followed were even more ominous: “They weren’t the ones who gave me the orders.”

“What do you mean?” Crow probed.

“They have eyes and ears inside the castle,” Otto revealed quietly, once again acting as if he was afraid of being overheard. “As high within the ranks as the king’s own court. I was blackmailed by someone I never would have expected. A friend who has betrayed us all for money and power—”

He didn’t have the chance to finish the sentence before an arrow suddenly pierced him in the head, and Crow jumped up from his body in surprise. Blood rushing in his ears, he spun around just in time to see the mercenary on the black horse turn the loaded bow in his hands toward him. The man must have broken away from the fight to follow them into the woods. And now that they were alone, there was nothing to stop him from finishing his job.

Swearing under his breath, the former thief dove behind the nearest bush just as the mercenary loosed his arrow. The projectile flew past his side, punching a hole in his cloak before it embedded itself into a tree behind him. He pressed a hand against his bruised midriff and ground his teeth. This was bad. He was too far away from his entourage to call for help, and if his opponent was anything like the mercenaries he’d faced years ago, he didn’t stand a chance against him in fair combat.

He couldn’t give up without a fight though. Gripping his dagger firmly in his hand, he peered through the leaves as the burly man walked his horse closer to the shrubbery he was using as a barrier between them. The mercenary was saying something in his native language that he couldn’t understand, but he paid no mind to the guttural-sounding words. Instead, his green eyes were fixed on the man’s torso as he tried to evaluate whether or not he was wearing armor. A half-brewed plan had started to form in his mind, and he wasn’t certain if it would work, but he had no other options.

So, as soon as the mercenary caught sight of him behind the bush and raised his bow to loose another arrow, the viceroy leapt into action. He threw the dagger in his hand before the other man could let go of his bowstring, praying to any god he could think of that the blade would hit its mark. And either the gods were listening to him that day or he’d stumbled upon an incredible stroke of luck, because even though the dagger didn’t pierce the metal plates underneath the killer’s cloak, it happened to cut through the string of his bow along its way, so the arrow flew askew through the air and fell short of its intended target.

Crow knew mercenaries always carried more than one weapon, so he didn’t take time to celebrate his success. While the rider dug through his belongings for another one, the former thief was already running back through the trees toward the knights he’d left behind. He sprinted as fast as his legs could carry him, spurred onward by the sound of hoofbeats at his back. Normally, he would have used the trees to his advantage by weaving between them to make use of the uneven terrain, but there wasn’t time for that when his enemy was seated on a mount that could outpace him faster if he didn’t move in a straight line.

Luckily because he’d ruined the mercenary’s long range weapon, the other man couldn’t attack him again before he closed the distance, and he covered enough ground to catch sight of the others through the trees up ahead by the time he was forced to throw himself to the floor to dodge the swing of a sword.

Preston noticed the commotion first and blanched at the sight of the viceroy being pursued by the only mercenary who hadn’t either escaped or been killed by one of the knights. “Percival!” he shouted urgently, pointing toward the two and drawing the others’ attention toward the skirmish.

Percy and the Younisian knights quickly steered their horses toward their enemy with their own weapons drawn, and the man on the black stallion snapped his head around toward them. Seeming to realize he wouldn’t survive if he lingered, he drove his heels into his mount’s sides and cantered back into the forest, disappearing around a thick cluster of trees and leaving Crow behind to climb shakily to his feet, surrounded by no less than seven guards. He rubbed his side with a wince and took in a slow breath, relieved that he’d managed to slip away at the expense of only one dagger and perhaps a few bruised ribs.

“Follow him,” the captain of the Younisian patrol ordered three of his men. “And try to capture him alive. I want to know who these men are and why they are trespassing in our territory in the middle of a war.”

The knights nodded and spurred their steeds to take chase.

Meanwhile, Percival slid off his horse to approach Crow. “Why did you leave?” he asked with a stern frown, limping on his wounded leg. “None of us saw where you went, and we can’t protect you if we don’t know where you are.”

Crow turned away from the trees to face the other man. “Otto was here,” he said between breaths.

“Baron Theroulde?” Percy blinked.

“Yeah,” the viceroy nodded. “He was watching us fight from a distance, so I went after him.”

“You could have told one of us,” the knight knitted his brows. “You were almost killed because you wandered away from the group. You should have stayed here.”

“I’m not a child,” Crow rolled his eyes and then grimaced again, pressing his hand down over his middle.

Percy glanced down at his torso and sighed. “I’ll take a look at that when we get to someplace safe… For now, did you find out what Otto was doing here?”

Crow nodded and parted his lips to explain, only to falter when Rayner ambled over. Unlike the others, the lieutenant didn’t seem to have sustained any injuries from the fight. “I’ll tell you later,” Crow mumbled under his breath, inclining his head ever so slightly toward Otto’s son. He didn’t want to break the news of the baron’s death in front of him.

Percival nodded, seeming to take the hint, and turned toward their comrade. “Did anyone see where Naida went?” Rayner asked concernedly once he’d reached them. “I thought I saw her take a hit from one of the mercenaries.”

At that, the color drained from the former thief’s face. After everything that had happened with Otto, he’d forgotten about his half-sister. A pang of guilt twisted his stomach, only to be smothered a second later by a surge of fear. The princess hadn’t been in good shape when her horse had galloped away from the fight, and he had no clue if she was even still alive. Their enemy’s weapon had looked like it had cut deep.

He cursed to himself and gestured toward the eastern side of the woods. “I saw her go that way,” he replied curtly.

Percival nodded once more and touched his own wounded leg. “You two go on ahead of me. I’ll catch up.”

Putting the baron out of his mind, Crow hurried with Rayner to mount their horses again. They headed into the trees briskly, sticking close together just in case any of the other mercenaries were still hiding nearby while they searched for the familiar shape of the princess’s horse. As the one who had convinced their father to allow her to join the mission, the former thief hoped beyond hope that she was okay. He didn’t know what he was going to do if they found a body in place of his sibling, and he held his breath worriedly as he scanned their surroundings for their missing member.
Hidden 1 yr ago Post by BuzzingBee
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A silence fell over the trio as Penelope trailed behind Olivia and Rory through the camp. Still simmering down from the confrontation with her brother, a new emotion began to take over. Her face was slightly red, not from anger but from embarrassment. Layth may have spat some hateful words at her first, but she was the one that made a scene out of it this time and in front of the prisoner no less. Gods... we must seem dysfunctional. she groaned inwardly. The female knight snuck a glance towards Rory, attempting to gauge the enemy knight's reaction to the scuffle. Surprisingly, she found that Rory was glancing her way, looking curiously towards her.

"Sooo.... that was your brother?" Rory finally worked up the nerve to speak.

"Unfortunately, yes." Penelope sighed.

"He seems...like a lot."

Penelope snorted and Olivia didn't bother to hold back a short laugh. "Oh kid you have no idea. You should be glad her brother didn't have more say in the matter regarding your time here. I can assure you it would not be pleasant." Olivia snickered.

"I picked up on that during the meeting." Rory admitted with a slight cringe. His attention quickly turned back to Penelope. "I understand why though, considering I am from the enemy kingdom but...why was he on your case so badly? And what's this about a thief playing noble?"

Penelope paused as he questioned her, unsure why he would even care about their personal affairs. Perhaps he was just nosy or he was looking for subtle ways to learn more about Brerra for whenever he was able to get back to his battalion. Regardless, the knight didn't feel comfortable with giving him any details into her personal life. "I'm not sure why you're asking but it's none of your business." she replied with a sigh.

Rory shrugged and shifted his gaze away. "I was just wondering... we heard a rumor from one of our southern battalions that a local thief had become the viceroy... I thought maybe it was regarding him."

At the mention of Crow, Penelope whipped her gaze back over to the enemy knight with newfound interest. "You've heard about him? Does that mean he's safely past your borders now?" she asked without restraint. Her previous hesitation to speak went out the window as soon as the opportunity to find out if Crow and the others had made it safely into Younis presented itself. She busied herself to keep her mind from worrying about the potential threats Crow may be facing on his journey so any information about his travel she could get was instantly appreciated. The sight of her caving so easily made Olivia give a soft laugh as she glanced over at the two.

Rory raised an eyebrow at them. "As far as I know, yeah. I know they sent some knights to escort the group and that everyone's been talking about how he used to steal from us and now he's one of the highest ranks one can receive... So it was him that your brother was referring to afterall?" he asked.

With brief hesitation, Penelope merely nodded her head. There was no sense in denying it now. The only additional information this Younisian had was that she was courting the thief turned viceroy, something that was likely a very minor detail in the grand scheme of things. For a moment, Rory didn't say anything and let a brief silence fall over the group. He finally broke it by quietly muttering, "Gods, Brerra is so strange."

Neither of the female knights replied to him though as their focus instead turned to leading him onward through the camp. Penelope could still feel Rory’s gaze lingering on her as she walked but she refused to address it further. The less this random Younisian knight knew about her, the better. Eventually the trio made it to where Gavin organized the holding tent. The makeshift prison wasn’t much different from any other tent aside from the fact that there was a set of cuffs and chains to keep the prisoner from wandering too far without permission. Since this was merely an enemy knight and not an infamous thief, Penelope doubted they had to worry too much about some grand escape but in this case, it was better safe than sorry. She stood to the side as Olivia escorted Rory over to the chains and turned to face Gavin as he stepped over to her side.

“I can help you with setting up a proper guard schedule for him.” Gavin offered and gave a small sigh. “Hopefully he doesn’t have to stay here too long though.”

“With any luck, things will simmer down in the coming weeks and he can be released.” Penelope murmured in agreement. “And I’ll take you up on that offer. Actually, if you could start setting that up for the rest of the day, I’d be grateful. I can watch over him until then.”

“I’ll get to it then.” Gavin nodded before turning to see himself out of the tent.

“And make sure the night guards bring him something for supper!” Penelope called over her shoulder. As Gavin gave a quick thumbs up as he walked off, she smiled a little and then turned her attention back over to Olivia and Rory, listening into whatever conversation the other female knight must have started with the Younisian knight.

“I mean, sure I was scouting the area too but it’s not like I was trying to spy on anyone. Had I known it would turn into this, I would have just slept in late this morning.” Rory pouted, while Olivia snickered. Penelope sighed, knowing her friend well enough to guess that now that things were quieting down she was taking stabs at the enemy knight’s pride.

“It was truly poor timing but with a bit of patience you’ll be back with your kingdom soon and unscathed.” Penelope added on a hopeful note as she decided to jump into the conversation.

Rory shifted his gaze over to her and then lowered it slightly to the chains that were now attached to his wrists. “I guess… I just don’t understand why I have to be kept here. All I heard was that you guys weren’t planning on attacking for sometime. I don’t see how that information could affect anything. We’re the ones still recovering from the last battle after all.” he said pleadingly as he glanced nervously between the two female knights.

Penelope studied him for a moment. The knight knew she wasn’t the best at judging when a person was lying or not-it was a craft she had yet to master-but the young knight in front of her seemed to genuinely think that the information he had heard was harmless. She let out a long sigh and crossed her arms. A serious expression crossed her visage as she met his gaze. “Your leaders will know how to use that information to your battalion’s advantage though. Especially if they know we’re only acting defensively right now. It might even encourage them to attack sooner. Our kingdom is trying to find a peaceful resolution to this war right now and if information like that was used to turn the tides of this war, peace might not come. So that’s why we have to keep you here.”

Rory frowned at her words, shrinking slightly as she spoke with conviction. Despite this, the knight still noticed him give a moment to pause and mull over her words. The young knight didn’t appear to want to throw in the towel on this discussion quite yet, which was a bit surprising since he hadn’t seemed very stubborn. Penelope could nearly picture the wheels of his mind spinning fast as he stared at the ground for a moment with his lips pressed into a thin line. When an idea finally sparked, he lifted his head back up eagerly to meet her gaze.

“W-Well what if our battalions made a truce then?” he asked, stuttering over his words with excitement.

“A truce?” Olivia echoed confusedly.

“Yeah! I mean, this war has been dragging on for so long some of my own comrades have been out here nearly a year and it’s not like we particularly enjoy battles either,” Rory rambled on. “But if your kingdom is seeking peace right now and your battalion doesn’t want to fight, you might be able to convince my barons into setting up a truce until further notice. T-that way no more blood is shed until either our kingdoms reach a peaceful agreement or..or we keep fighting for sure. What do you think?”

“It would be a nice break.” Olivia mused, not bothering to hide her interest at the idea.

“Maybe… But if the Younisians don’t agree, we might be put at a disadvantage…” Penelope mumbled hesitantly. It’d be lying to say the suggestion didn’t entice her. A truce until negotiations were done would mean both battalions could be at ease for a bit and the outer villages could also get a break from being part of the gruesome battlefields. However, if the Younisians rejected the idea, her battalion may be pushed into acting offensively sooner rather than later.

“I-It’s something to think about! You wouldn’t even have to mention the thing about your battalion backing off from the war and I promise I won’t mention anything… If you let me go back, I mean.” Rory said, seeming encouraged by the reactions he was getting.

Penelope opened her mouth to say something more but was cut off as the flap of the tent shifted and two knights walked in. One carried a small bowl of stew in his hands, a simple detail that let her know that these were guards sent by Gavin. As they dipped their head to her and announced they were there to take over watch, Penelope nodded her head and exchanged a glance with Olivia before moving to leave the tent. The two women headed out into their camp in a silence that didn’t last long.

“Sooooooo…. Are you going to try to get a truce set up?” Olivia asked curiously.

“I don’t know… It’s not a bad idea, but I’m not sure I, or any of us, could convince our own enemies to lay down their weapons for a peace that hasn’t been negotiated yet..” Penelope sighed.

“You convinced many snotty nobles and the king himself. What’s a couple more Younisian barons?” Olivia smirked, elbowing her friend encouragingly. “I say go for it! Plus if we’re in a truce, that means we can really make the most of our stay in the outer villages! I’m thinking we visit all those taverns again but for play not for work.”

Penelope laughed at Olivia’s suggestion. “I’ll think about it, I promise. Still, it’s a bit different than convincing people of the same kingdom. I don’t really know anyone over there.”

Olivia shrugged her shoulders. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out… Anyways, let's go get dinner! I’m starving and someone’s got a big duel in the morning! Come on!” she grinned as she hooked one arm around her friend’s shoulders to drag her towards the dining area.

“Oh gods don’t remind me.” Penelope groaned as she allowed her friend to drag her along to supper.

With a lot to consider and the duel she had challenged her brother to set for tomorrow morning, Penelope made quick work of her meal and retired to her tent at an early hour. Sleep did not come easy though. Her mind kept thinking of various angles at which she could possibly convince the Younisian nobles to stand down from attacking until word was received from the negotiations. While she ran through different scenarios, Layth would occasionally come to mind. The knight mentally kicked herself for challenging him to a duel in the first place. Though there wasn’t much on the line other than pride, she felt ashamed for ever setting it up in the first place. Gods if only I had kept my big mouth shut… damnit I need to sleep.. Penelope groaned and buried her face into her pillow. After a while of tossing and turning to try and settle her mind, the knight eventually drifted off into a light slumber with her stomach churning anxiously for the duel that she’d be facing off with in the morning.
Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Dagger
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Dagger Beyond the Binary

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All thoughts of Otto and the warning he’d tried to give had fled from Crow’s mind as he rode on Baine’s back through the trees. His heart thudded against his ribs, and his eyes swept over every bush and stone he passed in search of the missing princess. He didn’t know how much time had passed since he’d seen her take a sword to the midriff, and he didn’t know what he was going to do if he found her bleeding out somewhere, alone, on the forest floor. If she lost her life on this trip, it would have been his fault. After all, he was the one who’d insisted she should come with him to Younis, had convinced Albin to let her be one of his guards, and had let himself get too relaxed to notice the mercenaries on their tail. If he’d just let his father organize his entourage like he’d wanted to, then maybe—

“Collin, over here!”

His spiraling thoughts were interrupted jarringly by the sound of Rayner’s shout. Veering his mount to the left, he didn’t even give himself the time to call back a response before he hurried toward the source and found the knight dropping to his knees beside the fallen princess in a small clearing. Since she’d disappeared, she must have toppled from her horse’s back while it was still running, he pieced together as he jumped down from his own steed to rush to her side. The other horse was nowhere to be seen.

“Naida!” Barking her name, he dropped down next to her, his eyes sweeping from her pale face down to the gaping, bloody gash in her side. The mercenary’s weapon had cut deep, and he could feel the color drain from his skin as he stared at the gruesome wound. Suddenly, he felt lightheaded, and he forced himself to look away, swallowing hard. Even though he’d known she would be injured when he found her, he hadn’t braced himself to actually see her with a chunk of flesh taken out of her midriff. The sight was dizzying.

“Collin?” Weakly, his half-sister opened her eyes and made an attempt to lift her head off the grass.

“Don’t move, princess,” Rayner jumped in quickly, pressing his hands down over her gash to slow the bleeding.

She groaned and squeezed her eyes shut again. “It’s bad, isn’t it?”

Crow and Rayner exchanged a glance, but when no one answered her out loud, Naida spoke again, more nervously this time: “A-am I going to die?”

“No,” Crow said reflexively. Turning back to her, he was careful to avoid looking directly at her side. “You’re going to be fine. We just need to get you to the next town, and they should have a physician who can patch you up.”

“Actually… I have supplies in my saddlebag here,” Rayner posed, lifting his gaze to meet Crow’s with a frown. He leaned back slightly, lifting some of the pressure off the princess’s wound, and dark red blood seeped between his fingers. He grimaced. “I can get them now, but Collin, you’ll need to take my place here to keep her from losing any more blood.”

“Me?” The word slipped out before Crow could catch himself. Clearing his throat, he glanced at the knight’s waiting horse at the edge of the clearing. “Shouldn’t I get the things you need while you keep applying pressure?”

“Do you know what you’re looking for?” Rayner knitted his brows.


“Come around to this side.”

Rayner gestured at the empty space beside him with a nod of his head. The former thief glanced there hesitantly for a moment but followed the order. If his sister’s life depended on his involvement in her treatment, he didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. So, when Otto’s son leaned to the side to give him room to come in next to him, Crow took a steeling breath and rocked up on his knees to position his hands over the princess’s side, pressing them down as soon as the other man pulled away to stand. Instantly, he felt a shiver zip up his spine as her blood coated his palms, sickly warm and viscous, and he winced as she whimpered in pain.

“Just stay still,” he murmured, half to himself, as Rayner hurried off to dig in his saddlebags. “You’ll be alright soon.”

“Are you sure?” Naida looked up at him through squinted eyes.

He nodded, turning back to meet her gaze with a forced half-smile on his lips. “You will. A wound like this… It’s like a rite of passage. Every knight gets one at some point in her life. And when we get back to Brerra, you’ll get to tell everyone at the castle about how you fought a mercenary in Younis and survived.” As he spoke his smile turned slightly more playful. It was easier not to think about the gash in his sister’s side when he kept himself talking, and he could see her light up a little as well.

“Yeah. Right,” her lips curved upward, though he could see her throat move in a nervous swallow. “And father will see I was ready to handle a real job as a knight.”

“Exactly, so that’s why you need to just lie still and let Rayner patch you up, okay?”


Giving the princess a break from conversation, Crow lapsed into silence and looked up to count trees until the other man returned with the supplies he needed to close her wound. When he came back, Rayner knelt to take his spot, and the viceroy gladly got up to give them space. He removed himself from the vicinity to pace along the edge of the clearing, doing his best not to feel squeamish as Naida occasionally moaned and whimpered through the painful treatment. His hands felt sticky from her blood, but he hadn’t quite calmed down enough to take the time to clean them off, so he just tried to ignore the feeling as he walked along the tree line.

After a minute or so, he noticed movement in the distance, coming from the same direction as he and Rayner had earlier. Stopping in place, the former thief watched until he recognized the faces of Preston and Percival riding with the rest of the Younisians in tow. “Over here!” he called, waving a hand to flag them down. “We found her!”

The other men noticed him and hurried over on horseback. Without waiting, Percival dropped to the ground and jogged—or rather, limped hastily—over to Rayner to ask if there was any way he could offer assistance, while Preston hung back by Crow’s side, watching the scene with a scrunched face. “Is she going to be alright?”

“I don’t know yet,” Crow murmured, avoiding his servant’s eyes. “She’s coherent enough to talk, but she’s lost a lot of blood.”

Preston nodded. For a few beats, they both fell quiet. Then, his servant spoke up again.

“Do you need help getting cleaned up?”

Crow blinked and glanced down at himself. He hadn’t noticed it before, but while he’d been keeping the princess from bleeding out on the forest floor, the red stains had reached more than just the palms of his hands. Reluctantly, he let his attendant scrub the drying blood off his skin and clothing until Rayner announced that Naida was stable enough to transport, and they all pitched in to create a makeshift sling between two horses, which was then used to carry her into the next town ahead of them.

Along the way, Crow and Percival offered their limited knowledge about the mercenaries to the Younisian knights, who planned to pass word along to the other nearby guards in the hopes that they could catch the ones who had escaped. The knights also assured them that they would increase their security measures along the major roadways to the capital, so they could rest easy knowing that they would be safe from ambushes for the rest of their journey.

Crow wasn’t convinced they would be able to hold the mercenaries off forever, but he thanked them for their vigilance before he parted ways with the rest of his group to settle in at an inn.

For good measure, Rayner ventured out into the village to look for a physician to evaluate Naida’s condition while the viceroy and his entourage brought her up the stairs in her makeshift sling to their shared room for the night. Once she was lying on the bed closest to the door, Crow sat down heavily on one of the free cots near the back and stripped off his surcoat and undershirt to assess the damage from his earlier fall off Baine. His side hadn’t stopped aching since the adrenaline of the fight had worn off.

And the pain made sense to him when he saw the mottled green bruise that had taken up residence on his ribcage. He brushed it gingerly with his fingertips and hissed at the tenderness.

“That looks painful.”

Lifting his gaze, the former thief found Percival standing over him with furrowed brows. With Preston sitting in Naida’s company, the knight had stepped away from her to make good on the promise he’d made in the woods before. “If you’d like it, there’s a salve in the medical supplies that should take the edge off.”

“Please,” Crow nodded. Exhaling slowly, he leaned back on the palm of a hand while the knight dug in a leather bag until he retrieved a small sealed jar. Percival handed it off to him, and he twisted the lid off with a word of thanks, applying a dab of the cream inside to his bruise.

For a minute or so, they sat quietly. The only sound in the room was that of Naida and Preston having a hushed conversation at her cot. Percival watched the viceroy treat his own wound, reclining against the bed across from him with his hands clasped loosely in his lap. His lips were pursed and his eyes thoughtful, and when Crow was done with the salve, the knight looked up to catch his gaze. “So… about Otto.”

Crow paused in the middle of setting the jar down beside him. “Right,” he mused. Now that things had calmed down and Rayner wasn’t with them, it was the perfect time to discuss the other man’s father. Glancing at Preston, who had looked up at the sound of Otto’s name, he frowned as he thought back over the run-in he’d had with the baron in the woods. “Not long after the mercenaries attacked us, I noticed him standing off in the distance, watching,” he started, turning back to Percival. “I don’t know exactly what he was doing there, but I didn’t want to let him get away from us again, so I went after him.

“He tried to run, but I caught up to him and tried to make him tell me what was going on… I didn’t get much out of him before one of those men showed up and put an arrow through his head though.” He wrinkled his nose at the mental image. “All I managed to wring out of him was that he claimed he was being forced to help someone and that there was some sort of change to their plans.”

“What does that mean?” Percival asked.

“He said something about a different trap for someone before the king chose to send me to Younis instead of Gorm. Apparently when that changed, I became the target instead.” Crow studied a crack in the wall to his right idly. “It sounds to me like whoever was pulling the strings behind this attack really doesn’t want our two kingdoms to be negotiating right now.”

“But this war has been hard on everyone,” Preston suddenly spoke up from across the room, wearing a perplexed expression. “Why would anyone, Brerratic or Younisian, want to stop us from ending it?”

Crow lifted his hands in a broad shrug. “Beats me, but whoever it is was apparently desperate enough to blackmail Otto into helping by threatening his family. He said that if he refused to do what they wanted, Rayner and his wife would have been killed.” He paused as another piece of the conversation came back to him. “And he also said he wasn’t the only one they’re using. There was someone else in the castle that was relaying orders to him… I think it’s someone close to the king.”

“That isn’t good,” Percival exhaled anxiously. “If there’s a traitor among King Albin’s circle, he needs to be made aware of it before they do any more damage.”

“But how?” Preston shook his head. “It’s not like we can just send him a letter. If this person has informants, they’ll intercept it for sure.”

“We just need to wrap up this trip and get back to the castle as quickly as we can,” Crow said, glancing at Naida, who seemed to have fallen asleep at some point during their conversation. “For now, we focus on getting to the Younisian king, negotiating for a truce, and keeping a lookout for mercenaries until we’re safe in our own land again. Ending the war is top priority.”

“Agreed,” Percival nodded, standing up from his bed. “And on that note, I will wait up for Rayner and the physician, so the two of you should get some rest. I have a feeling we’re going to have a long ride tomorrow.”

“Probably,” Crow sighed, turning to lay down on his cot. Taking the knight’s advice, he and Preston both settled in for bed, and Percival put out the oil lamps everywhere in the room except near Naida, so the physician could see her when he arrived.

As the room darkened, the former thief closed his eyes and rolled over to face the back wall, shifting to make himself comfortable on the thin mat underneath him. Now that they’d been attacked once, he didn’t know what to expect for the rest of the journey. He just hoped the mercenaries were only after him and that Penelope was safe in the outer villages. Pulling the sheet up over his head, he sent a prayer to any god that would listen that she would be left alone and that he and his group would make it to the Younisian palace without any more ambushes.
Hidden 9 mos ago Post by BuzzingBee
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If only she had thought to schedule the duel with Layth closer to sunset rather than sunrise. The knight had gotten poor sleep so when Olivia came to wake her up to get ready for the fight, Penelope felt as if she had never gone to bed in the first place. The lieutenant stretched out her limbs and rubbed her eyes as she tried to shake the hint of anxiousness she felt churning in her stomach. I should have never challenged him to this stupid duel. She groaned inwardly as she put on her armor. Stepping out of her tent, she was immediately greeted by Olivia, who seemed to be beaming.

“Ready to go kick your brother’s ass?” Olivia grinned, seeming unfazed by her friend’s tired appearance.

“Not really… Gods I dread facing him now..” Penelope sighed, running a hand over her face. “You think there’s a chance he’ll agree to calling it off?”

Olivia pretended to mull it over for a second, tapping her finger against her chin in thought. “Well, this is your brother we’re talking about soooo…. I’m going to have to go with no.” she answered with a small snicker. Seeing Penelope deflate slightly, Olivia gave her friend a reassuring nudge. “Oh come on, Penelope. You can handle a duel with your brother. You’re fierce with a sword and if you need something to fire you up, just think about all the things he has done! I mean, there’s a reason you snapped and challenged him.”

“I guess you’re right..” Penelope mumbled. Trying to listen to her friend’s advice, she began to recount how infuriating her brother had been since she had returned to the camp. She thought of his harsh words towards her, his threats about Crow, and how he tried to derail any plan she presented to the barons. A spark of anger and motivation began to bubble inside her. It felt encouraging and the knight continued to focus on some of the terrible things her brother had done. Normally thinking of such things brought a sense of shame since he was her brother and his actions were out of her control but in this case, it gave her a reason to continue forward with the duel. “Yeah… he’s been terrible.”

“Exactly!” Olivia grinned as they continued walking towards the training grounds. “And now you have the chance to get back at him for it!”

Penelope returned her friend’s grin with a smile and nodded her head in agreement. The two friends soon reached the training grounds. It wasn’t surprising to see that a small crowd of knights had gathered to witness the fight. Whenever duels took place, it was common for rumor to spread and crowds to gather. Still, Penelope couldn’t say she was fond of having the additional pairs of eyes watching her. She let out a breath and focused her gaze towards the sparring area, where her brother was already waiting. Layth, looking eager for the fight, gave his training sword a few mock swings before turning his head to look over at his half sister. As their eyes met, he smirked confidently and rested the blunted blade on his shoulder.

“I was wondering when you were going to show up. I thought you might have chickened out.” Layth sneered.

Penelope rolled her eyes in response as she stepped into the sparring area. She stopped to pick up one of the training swords, gripping its handle firmly in her hand. “I assure you I have no plans on backing out.” she responded coldly. At least, not anymore…. She added to herself.

“Let me know when you two are ready and we can let the duel begin.” Mia announced from the sidelines. The baroness stood near the edge of the area with her arms crossed and an intrigued expression set upon her face. As Penelope looked over at her, the baroness flashed a small smile.

“I’ve been ready.” Layth replied haughtily. “ What about you, sister?”

Penelope glanced at the small crowd around them. Most of their comrades seemed to just be interested in watching the fight but she did note a good handful of knights sneering in her direction, obviously rooting against her. It was difficult to say if they were friends of Layth or simply resented her for working with and eventually courting Crow. The crowd wasn’t all bad though. She located Olivia, who was quick to give her a thumbs up, Gavin, who had a serious expression with his arms folded over his chest, and Tomas; who stood near Mia, glancing at the two siblings with a frown on his lips.

The knight let out a breath, bracing herself for the fight as she took a step forward. Raising her sword defensively, she met her brother’s gaze with a challenging look. “I’m ready.”

“Wonderful then we shall begin the duel. Warriors, raise your weapons and prepare to fight in three.. two...” Mia paused as she counted down, eying both opponents before dropping a raised hand. “One!”

Almost as soon as the duel’s beginning was announced, Layth rushed towards her. It was exactly what Penelope expected him to do though. The female knight had trained, sparred and dueled with her brother for many years so his relentless fighting style came as no shock to her. With the agileness of a dancer, she slipped away from the slashes of his sword, parrying it with her own when it did swing close. Her brother didn’t allow her much breathing room though. He was just as aware of her style of fighting as she was of his own. Layth slashed at her, causing the sound of clinking metal to fill the air as he lunged at his sister once more in an attempt to overwhelm her defense with his attacks.

Penelope swiftly deflected his blows with her sword. When he lunged forward again, she swept to the side, aiming to try and utilize a weak spot in his form. She used the handle of her sword to hit his side. Layth let out a small grunt of frustration at the strike and lashed out a leg to try and sweep her legs out from under her while he had her so close. Penelope managed to get out of his reach just in time, shooting her brother a proud smirk that was not well received. The determination and anger in his gaze was unwavering. It was enough to let the female knight know that he had no intention of losing. Well, neither do I… she thought, clenching the hilt of her sword stubbornly. She lunged forward at him this time, causing their swords to clash briefly before she pushed off of him. Wanting to maintain her offensive position, the female knight aimed her sword at his hand, slashing low with hopes to make herself an opening.

Layth deflected her attacks but not with ease. The male knight was tense and focusing heavily to make sure not to give away any weak points. With his jaw clenched, he knocked back Penelope’s sword and charged forward. Unprepared for the sudden thwack to the side of her sword, the female knight had been forced to make an opening and Layth took advantage of it by sweeping his arm out to knock her to the ground. Due to their size difference, Penelope went down with ease.

She groaned as she fell on her back and hurriedly blocked his second attack as he swung his sword down at her. Layth glared at her and pushed against her sword. “I hope you’re ready to lose.” he sneered.

The female knight rolled her eyes. “It isn’t over yet, bastard.” she growled in response. Taking advantage of his focus on getting his sword at level with her throat, she swept her leg out and knocked her brother down to the ground beside her. He landed with an undignified yelp that made a smirk cross her lips. Apparently Layth had thought his footing was more solid than it had been.

Penelope rolled away from her brother, lunging to her feet as swiftly as possible. Layth was just as fast to recover though and was already climbing back to his feet by the time she moved to face him again. Halfway up to his feet, their blades bounced off of each other once more as the male knight deflected his sister’s attack. His jaw was tight with frustration and beads of sweat began to form on his forehead. Winning wasn’t coming as easily as he had hoped and that only added fuel to Penelope’s fire. Her next onslaught of attacks came relentlessly as she buzzed around him, trying to strike at every possible angle. The female knight was intent on using his own form of fighting against him now that he was becoming stressed about the possibility of losing. The close clashing of metal caused no strife for Penelope but Layth was a different story as his eyes darted from her to her weapon in an attempt to calculate where she would strike next. She had successfully gotten into her brother’s head.

Though Layth’s skill with defense was decent, it wasn’t up to par with his offense. Between her tricks and her skill with a sword, all Penelope needed was a small opening and as soon as one presented itself, she took it. Her brother leaned slightly too far left as he deflected one of her onslaught of attacks, leaving his right wide open. Instead of making an obvious attack for it with her blade, Penelope swung a fist forward, catching the side of her brother. Layth grunted and stumbled. His recovery from the hit wasn’t fast enough to stop his half sister from raising her blade to his neck.

“Yield?” Penelope asked with winded breath. Forcing Layth to be on defense was no easy task and she was feeling the full effects of it.
Backing down was never something that came easy to the male knight. As the two siblings stared each other down, there was a fire inside his gaze that looked ready to engulf her if given the chance. But with one look down at the blade pointed at his throat, the fire was trapped to his eyes alone. The next words out of her brother’s mouth came out slow and bitter. “I yield.”

Penelope’s sword lowered upon hearing the words and she turned to look to Mia. It was custom that the match’s victor needed to be approved by the referee before the duel’s results were finalized. Mia’s lip twitched upward into a smile. “The fight was fair. Penelope Vermillion is the champion of this duel!” she announced proudly.

With the thrill of the duel dying with its end, Penelope became aware of the crowd around them for the first time since they had begun trading blows. It appeared their audience had grown and from the sound of it, she had not been the fan favorite. Murmurs and awkward glances erupted from the larger majority of the crowd, who now had to deal with watching their favored Vermillion accept defeat. It hadn’t been her intention to make an example out of her brother to his followers and those who looked down on her for her actions but regardless, it appeared she had.

On the opposite spectrum, a smaller amount of the crowd responded with claps and cheers. The strongest of her supporters was naturally Olivia. The other female knight gave loud cheers, grinning like a fox as her friend was announced the winner. Tomas let out a breath and as he caught Penelope’s gaze, he shot her a friendly smile and joined amongst the friendly claps. The female knight managed to catch Gavin’s normally stoic face break into an amused smirk as he cheered softly for his friend and the defeat of Layth.

Penelope faced the crowd with a proud grin but didn’t indulge in her victory any further than that. Instead, she turned her head back to address her half brother, only to find that he was already making his quiet exit from the sparring ring while most of the focus was on her. Her grin dissolved slightly as he looked back over his shoulder to meet her gaze with one final glare before cutting his way through the surrounding crowd. While he was being greeted with words of sympathy, Penelope turned and put away the training sword before making her own exit. Her supporters were fewer than Layth’s but she still received a few words of congratulations from her comrades.

“Excellent swordsmanship out there lieutenant!” grinned one of the older knights named Robin, who gave her a firm clap on the back.

“Thank yo–” Penelope began before an arm wrapped around her shoulders and pulled her away with clear enthusiasm.

“You’re damn dangerous with a sword! I don’t know if your brother’s pride will ever recover from that.” Olivia laughed as she now walked with her friend. Alongside her sudden arrival, the knight realized that Gavin had also quietly made his way up besides the two.

Penelope smiled at her friend. “I’m sure he’ll bounce back just fine. I just pray it was enough to keep him from constantly irritating me.” she paused before a more mischievous smirk crossed her lips. “Though, I must admit, beating him into shame was quite satisfying to some degree.”

“It was satisfying to watch.” Gavin admitted with an amused expression.

“No kidding! Your poor viceroy is going to be sad he missed the clash of the Vermillions.” Olivia joked.

The female knight gave a laugh and nodded her head in agreement. “True but if Layth honors our agreements, he’ll at least get some entertainment from my proud brother congratulating us on our courtship.” she pointed out. She shrugged her shoulders and continued onward. “Anyways, come on, let’s go get breakfast. I’m starving now!”
Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Dagger
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The scare of being attacked by mercenaries had lit a fire under everyone in Crow’s party. The next day, they were all up and moving at the very first light of dawn, anxious to complete their ride to the Younisian castle before their enemies—whoever they were—could make a second attempt to stop them. Preston got ahead of the horses, feeding and watering them in preparation for the long ride ahead; Percival took care of the packing and loaded up all the belongings they’d taken to their room at the inn; and Rayner followed up with Naida’s treatment to make sure her open wound didn’t show any signs of infection since the physician had bound it the night before. Even Crow, who wasn’t fond of starting his mornings in a rush, climbed out of bed without prompting and dressed and ate right away, so he was ready to go when they finally made their way to the stable to catch up with his attendant.

The Younisian knights that had helped them the day before also made an appearance to escort them, as an added precaution. In their company, Crow and the rest of the Brerratic entourage settled their horses into a quicker gait than they had until that point in the hopes that the could make it to the palace by nightfall if they pushed the animals to their limits. It was difficult, with Naida barely fit to be carried in a sling between two mounts. There was no way she was going to be able to ride upright by herself, so they had set up the same makeshift cot to transport her as they had after they’d found her in the woods. However, it was rockier this time, as they left the flatlands of the last village and navigated through the more uneven terrain closer to the central part of the kingdom.

The former thief felt a little guilty for putting her through the pain of getting jostled by their fast-trotting horses, but unfortunately, it was their only choice if they didn’t want to end the day at another city outside the palace. He hoped that when they arrived, the security in and around the castle would be enough to keep the mercenaries at bay until he finished negotiating with the foreign king. Once he had a signed treaty—which he didn’t plan on leaving without—they would be one step closer to ending the war between their two countries. One step closer to bringing Penelope home from the front lines and saving the outer villages from further desolation. That was something he couldn’t risk losing, even for the sake of his wounded half-sister.

He wasn’t without compassion though. Whenever she was awake and he wasn’t occupied by guiding Baine through the winding parts of the road, he kept her distracted from her discomfort with stories from the last time he’d been through this part of Younis. He told her about how Penelope had taught him to use a bow, how they’d forced William to steal horses with them when they needed mounts on their way back to Brerra and, when the Younisian knights were out of earshot, about how they’d gotten away from the castle with the king’s staff.

Naida found the stories amusing, but they also helped the viceroy pass the time on the way to the palace. Since they were hurrying, the group didn’t stop for lunch or dinner, and he was famished as the sun began to sink lower in the sky. Talking to his sister took his mind off the hunger pangs until the castle walls finally came into view up ahead, and he could breathe easy knowing they had made it without any more threats to their lives.

“The royal guard will lead you from here,” one of the knights announced when they finally stopped just outside the main curtain wall. He and his comrades dismounted to help Percival and Rayner with Naida’s sling, while Crow and Preston dropped to the ground to stretch their legs. Once his half-sister was on her feet—leaning heavily against Percy’s side—the Younisian knights left them to wait for their next set of escorts, who appeared on the other side of the gate after just a few minutes of standing around. From there, they were led into a courtyard the former thief didn’t remember seeing before, since he and Penelope had broken in through a back portion of the wall the last time they’d been to the palace and it had been dark and stormy throughout the night.

He trailed after the royal guards toward the back of the group, letting his eyes wander over the sprawling gardens and water features under the dimming evening sky until they stepped through the main entrance, and the green was replaced with marble and gold.

“This place is amazing,” Preston breathed beside him, his wide eyes lifted high to the arched, coffered ceiling.

Crow nodded his agreement, though his gaze was fixed on something he’d just noticed directly ahead of them. At the base of a split, grand staircase, there was another water feature like the ones he’d spotted in the garden. It sat above the floor in a circular, gray stone pool, but it stood out from the rest because carved into the wall behind it was an oversized sculpture of a woman in long, flowing robes and her hands cupped just below her breast. It had been a long time, but he recognized her immediately.

“Emissaries from Brerra?”

The sound of an unfamiliar voice drew his attention away from the statue as he turned to see a man about twenty years his senior descending the right side of the staircase. He was dressed in purple with a band-like adornment around his head and was flanked on each side by two armed guards whose hands rested imposingly on the hilts of their swords. Judging by the grand entrance, he looked important, but Crow remembered an older man the last time he’d come across the king of Younis. This person was much younger than the one who lived in his memory.

“My, my, this is unexpected,” the man mused, studying the ragged group with a curious expression. “To what do I owe this… visit during the middle of a war? Has your kingdom finally decided to surrender?”

Crow pressed his lips together. There was a condescending note to his voice that made him think this man wasn’t going to be excited to accept a proposal for peace without one kingdom conquering the other. He wasn’t about to be turned away before he could even give his pitch to the king though. Not after everything he and the rest of his group had been through—and not when Penelope was relying on him to see through this next leg of their mission. She had put in the hard work of winning over their kingdom, so now it was his turn to fight for the Younisians’ support.

Stepping forward, he met the older man’s gaze evenly. “I come bearing a proposition for your king in regard to the war. Is he available for an audience?” Remembering the training his father had given him before he’d left, he spoke more formally than he would have if he’d been spent with instructions to use his own voice. The pomp made him cringe internally, but he needed to be taken seriously, so he suppressed his disgust with the charade and straightened his shoulders determinedly.

The man on the stairs eyed him for a moment and then smirked. “I am he.” Descending the rest of the way to the floor below, he introduced himself with a flourish of his hand, “King Jerold Vieuxpont.”

As he stated his name, ritual seemed to register in the minds of the rest of the group, because everyone who was physically able in Crow’s entourage responded with deep bows. Percival tipped slightly to support Naida, who even ducked her head, though she winced at the motion. Crow wasn’t as quick to the punch, but when he saw the others show the purple-clad man respect, he followed their lead with a bow of his own, rectifying his first question while his gaze was still lowered to the floor: “My apologies, Your Highness. I was under the impression the king of Younis was…older.”

Jerold chuckled. “Ah, you were probably expecting my father, weren’t you? Relations between our lands hasn’t been great lately, I suppose… Unfortunately, he passed away two summers ago. Reign of Younis has since fallen to me.”

Of course, Crow thought with a blink. Aeklora had said something about that to him last time, hadn’t she? In the years that had passed, he’d completely forgotten about the goddess’s prophesy that the former Younisian king didn’t have much time left. Apparently he’d already expired, and his son was in charge now. He wasn’t sure if that was a benefit or a hinderance to his agenda. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he replied, righting his posture again to meet the other man at eye-level.

“I’ve had more than enough time to grieve,” Jerold waved a hand dismissively. “Anyway. I am interested in hearing more about this proposition of yours…”

“Collin,” Crow supplied, guessing the king was fishing for a name when he trailed off.

“Collin,” Jerold echoed with a smile that only just touched his eyes. It was then that he finally turned toward Naida, who looked like she barely had the strength to keep clinging to Percival’s shoulder, and gestured at one of his men. “Why don’t we plan to speak tomorrow morning, after you and your guards have had time to rest? There are plenty of rooms available in the palace, so you’re more than welcome to stay here. Emory can show you to your accommodations.”

One of the guards on Jerold’s left bowed curtly and stepped out of position. “Right this way.”

Crow felt slightly hesitant to take him up on the offer immediately after he’d started to get the feeling that they weren’t as welcome as Jerold wanted them to believe. There was no way the king hadn’t heard about the mercenary attack by now, so it was apparent that he didn’t care Naida had been wounded by the paid attackers. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of a choice in the matter when his half-sister was going to keel over at any second though, so, swallowing his pride, he nodded and moved to follow Emory. “Thank you. We’ll speak in the morning.”

Leaving Jerold to ascend the stairs again, the former thief led his party down one of the side halls after the Younisian guard. With a set of ears present that were guaranteed to feed information back to the king, none of them bothered to talk amongst each other until they were shown to the three rooms where they would be staying—one for Naida, one for Crow and one for the other three men to share. Percy thanked Emory for escorting them, and once they were alone and had laid the princess down to sleep in peace and quiet, everyone who was still well enough to get around gathered together in the knights’ room.

“King Vieuxpont is an… interesting man,” Preston frowned, sitting on one of the beds with a sigh. “I can’t tell if he’s actually interested in hearing what you have to say or if he’s already scheduling our execution in the back of his head.”

“His kindness does seem tactical,” Rayner agreed quietly, reclining on his own bed.

“It doesn’t matter,” Crow shrugged. While the knights and his attendant readied themselves to sleep for the night, he stood with his shoulders against the door and his arms folded loosely across his chest. “Even if he’s against us now, it doesn’t change the fact that I won’t be leaving here without his signature on that peace treaty. We might just be here longer than we first thought.”

“I’m just glad I’m not the one who has to convince him,” Preston wrinkled his nose.

“I’m sure Collin will do fine,” Percival said supportively, turning to the viceroy. “That’s what all the training with King Albin was for, right?”

“Technically, most of that was for negotiating with Gorm,” Crow pointed out. “But I’m sure I can get him to come around. The treaty Albin came up with is a fair trade for both kingdoms, so he doesn’t have anything to lose by agreeing.”

“Except for the total control of an enemy kingdom,” Rayner muttered.

“But he isn’t guaranteed that by continuing with the war either,” Percy objected.

“And that’s what I’m leaning on to win him over before we leave,” Crow nodded. Taking a step away from the door panel, he reached for its ornate, gold handle and gave it a pull. “And on that note, I should get some rest, so I’ve got the mental clarity to speak with him tomorrow… Keep an eye on Naida for me, Preston.”

“I will,” the attendant promised.

They said a few parting words, and the viceroy traipsed to his own room to dress down for the night. He tossed his surcoat and other regalia over the footboard and collapsed on the mattress in his underclothes with an exhausted exhale. As long of a day as it had been, he had a feeling tomorrow would be even longer. He’d been serious when he had told the others that he wasn’t leaving without King Jerold’s signature though. No matter how much effort it took, he was going to make sure the war ended when he left Younis. It was what Penelope and Hazel and Rikki and Alistair and everyone else on the border deserved, and he wasn’t going to let them down.
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