Marul Gutenberg bent double, breathing hard, he squeezed his eyes shut and gritted his teeth. Sweat bubbled on his forehead and he could feel it starting to run down his face. Pain throbbed through his arms and legs but mostly it was in his chest; where the blow had taken him by surprise.
He tried to grip the pommel of his long sword tighter but the sweat on his palms caused the smoothed ridges to slip from under his fingers.
There was a sudden burst of voices that rose in roars of approval. Hands clapped loudly, echoing though the stone courtyard.
The sound hurt his ears as Marul let it wash over him. He shook his head slightly as if trying to clear his ears of the noise but he already knew it was useless to try and block the noise out again. Swift footsteps tapped across the cobbled floor towards him and instinctively Marul ducked.
The wind whistled where his head had just been as the sword cut though the air.
“Stop!” he yelled.
Marul opened his eyes as the tip of the long sword was pushed against his throat.
“Do you surrender?” asked a light voice.
“Yes,” Marul gagged as the sword tip pushed harder.
The sword dropped away.
Marul put his hand to his throat as he stood up, he then pulled his hand back and looked at the wetness on the palm of his hand. Red blood droplets were smeared across his skin, the sword tip had draw blood.
Marul glanced up at his older brother, Wolf Gutenberg, who was standing only a few paces away from him and waving and bowing to the crowed of people that had gathered around them. The sound of their voices cheering and applauding was louder then before and mixed in with the clapping hands.
“Ha, little brother, I win again!” Wolf shouted and then stomped over to Marul and punched him on the shoulder.
Marul drew himself up and let his sword drop with a loud clatter to the floor of the courtyard as he clutched his now bruised shoulder.
The crowd of onlookers began to disperse. Some of them left in small groups, talking softly, whilst the men of the guard returned to their posts around the high walls of the courtyard. Above their heads the torn yellow flag bearing the black lion symbol of Averland flew in the wind. Marul watched a group of women carrying wicker baskets under their arms going back to their tasks in his father’s house.
“What do you fancy fighting with next? Short swords perhaps?”
Marul turned back to Wolf, who was busy tighten one of his ornamented breastplate’s leather straps.
“No,” Marul replied.
Wolf smiled widely, showing off his white teeth and large, pointy fangs.
“Not scared are you, little brother?” Wolf asked mockingly.
Marul brushed his brown hair back with his hand and bent to pick up his long sword.
“I have better things to do…..” Marul started.
“Better things…then preparing for war? The undead are baying outside the city walls, little brother.”
Wolf turned on his heels and started to walk away. His two servants followed behind him closely, they were carrying Wolf’s long black cloak, green feather plumed helmet and another long sword that was sheathed.
Marul stood up and took a deep breath, “….then play-fighting,” he finished.
Wolf spun to face him, a flash of anger across his red sweating face.
Marul tightened his grip on his sword in both hands and spread his feet in preparation for his brother to charge at him.
“Play-fighting? Is that what you think to our practicing?” Wolf snapped, “Well….” he ran a hand though his short black beard, “I’ll try harder to kill you next time then.”
Wolf flashed Marul a wolf like grin and then walked out of the courtyard.
Marul let go of the breath he had been holding and turned to leave. His own servant was standing to the left of him; he was holding a helmet with a yellow plume and short pale yellow cloak. The servant give Marul a nerves smile.
“Well done my lord!”
Marul shot him a look and then snatched the cloak out of the man’s hands.
“I was sure of your victory in that round but that last blow….”
“Stop,” Marul snapped and he drew a deep breath, “How bears my father?”
The servant to the young lord paused before saying gently, “He is worse my lord. There are doubts he will survive the night.”
Marul turned away and started to walk out of the courtyard with the servant trailing behind him.
“Only yesterday Kurt Wossoff had a run in with three skeleton warriors in the Heroes mounds, which means were have a Necromancer or something worse in our mists,” Joss Vaker, chief advisor to the Lord of Walberg spoke.
The other advisors and guards shifted nervously in the room. They eyes dart around the tapestry covered walls, avoiding meeting anyone else’s.
Joss stopped pacing before the dais and before he turned he glanced up at the empty throne like chair on the dais and allowed the heaviness to lay on his heart. He let out a deep breath and clutched the scroll tightly in his hand. He turned away and faced the room once more.
“We must call for heroes and all sword-sellers to stand with us!”
Whispering voices echoed though the room.
Suddenly the wooden double doors banged open and Wolf Gutenberg, first son of the Lord of Walberg, walked into the room. He held his head high, his black hair loose over his shoulders and his high rounded cheeks glowing red. His sharp brown eyes scanned the room and then he crossed the floor swiftly in his large boots. His sheathed sword banged against his leg as he walked.
Silence had fallen in the room.
“What is going on here?” he demand as he beared down on his father’s chief advisor.
“Well…sir…you see…we’ve had a report of another attack.”
Wolf stepped up onto the dais and sank down into the chair.
“Wine,” he called and waved his hand at the nearest servant.
“But this one was different,” Joss finished.
“Well, skeleton warriors were involved.”
Wolf chocked on his mouthful of wine. He quickly covered this up by swallowing it and taking another mouthful.
“Where was this attack?” he asked.
“At the old Heroes mounds, in Avavest woods.”
Wolf gritted his teeth and stared into the goblet of wine.
“We must finish our preparations,” Joss added.
“Yes,” Wolf answered, “See it is done!”
Marul sink onto his bed and watched the wax dripping down from the candle that was on the table beside him. The tiny flame flickered in a small breeze and the wick cracked loudly. Marul signed and started to pull off his knee length leather boots.
“Your father has request you, sir,” Branen Uriah spoke, breaking the silence.
Marul glanced up at the voice of his servant. The small man was putting some clean clothes away in a chest at the foot of the bed.
“What for?” Marul snapped, he was tired of being called to his father’s sickbed.
“I don’t know, sir.”
Marul sighed, pulled his boot back up and stood up from the bed. He checked his sword was buckled around his waist and then he walked out of his room. He began to walk to the other side of the castle to his father’s rooms. The cold bare stone walls were lit by torches, the flames waved in the drifts that roamed though the castle. Soft voices floated to Marul’s ears though half opened doors. He past windows and though then he could see the coming darkness of night. He kept an eye out of the twin moons, Morrslib and Manslib as he did so.
At last he came to the staircase that led up to his father’s rooms. As he walked up the spiral staircase he could hear soft voices and the scent of herbs coming from above him. He paused at the open wooden door, hiding in the shadow of the wall. He looked into the room.
The vast bed lay in the middle of the room, it was heaped with blankets and thick furs. A huge fire burnt brightly and fiercely in the wall opposite. The large window had also been covered up a thick drape.
“But father Wolf’s voice called out sharply.
Marul strained to hear the next voice but he could not make out the words.
“Please!” another voice whispered loudly.
Marul gritted his teeth and walked into the room, his hand resting on the top of his sword.
“Here is Marul, my lord,” one of the advisers around his father’s bed whispered.
Marul walked up to the bed and stared into his fathers face.
The lord of Walberg was wasting away. His skin was a deathly white shade and his wrinkled face seemed to have sunken in. The eye lids were closed but under them Marul could see the eyeball moving. The pale blue tinted lips were partly open but the great, long black beard his father had worn with pride had been removed to stubble crossing his lower face.
Marul clutched his father’s icy cold hand in his own.
“I am here, Father,” he said quietly.
The dying man drew in a wheezing breath and struggled to open his eyes.
The men around the bed had moved back, they had stepped into the shadows of the dimly lit chamber. Wolf was the only one left by the bed and was at the foot of it, resting his back against one of the bed poles.
“M..Marul?” the voice croaked.
Marul lent his ear closer to his father’s mouth so he could hear better.
“I’m here,” he repeated and squeezed his father’s withered hand.
“I..I have de…decided…to…give you half…..”
The Lord Walberg started coughing and Marul quickly pulled his head back.
He turned to Wolf and then dropped his father’s hand and walked over to him.
“Half?” he questioned his father’s words to his brother.
Wolf nodded his head slowly, “Half of everything. He decided to spilt it down the middle.”
Marul cast a look back to his dying father. One of the servants had stepped forward with a damp rag of cloth which he wiped across the forehead of the dying lord.
“Even the town?” Marul spoke suddenly.
“Yes,” Wolf answered and then swore loudly.
This caused some of the advisers to shake their hands.
The Lord of Walberg suddenly took a large breath in which caused everyone else in the room to hold theirs. His eyes rolled backwards and then his last breath was forced from his lungs. There was a hushed silence in the room.
Joss Vaker, chief adviser, stepped forward to the bed and looked into the face of the lord.
“He is died,” Joss breathed, “Our noble lord has passed into the realms of Morr.”