The villagers came in hundreds by the dirt road. Shouts and roars, angry voices demanding blood, demanding only peace so they would not suffer any kind of persecution that the evil shadows could perpetuate.
The man at the top of the castle couldn't blame them for the fear.
– Your Majesty, sir. They are coming. We must leave for your safety, this is the last chance we have...
– Enough, Faren. How many times will I have to say: I'll not leave this castle!
The royal guard, who watched over that king's safety for the last thirty years, put on his shoulders and sustained his king’s gaze, and what he found there weighed not only on his armor, but on his heart as well.
The screams from outside were no longer so muffled. The noise of wooden clubs and small swords was now also distinguished between the hustle and bustle of the crowd. The king turned to the window, leaning his hands on the stone parapet and feeling the cold coming from it even though spring was not long in coming.
The sound of hasty steps, some of hastily shouted orders and doors being opened and closed also reached the king's room.
– Faren! – another guard presented himself in a firm tone. – The passage is already open and three groups of guards have been sent to the main gate. If we don't go now, there may be no more time later.
Faren clenched his teeth and hands. He didn’t want things to end that way. His oath to his king went beyond any bond he could or would possibly create with anyone else, and he knew that very well before he accepted the task of king guard. The years of living with the king taught him several things, both about himself and about the one he served, about his qualities and his defects.
– Do your orders remain the same, my king? - Faren already knew the answer before he even asked out loud, but it needed to be done anyway.
– Yes, they remain the same. – He addressed the newly arrived guard. – The queen, her children and her nephews must be removed from the castle now. And no blood will be spilled.
The guard took a while looking at his commander expecting an acquiescence, although this could indirectly be interpreted as a betrayal, after all if the king had given him an order, only the king could release him from such an order, but that slip, although observed by the king, didn’t touch his dignity, it was understandable given the circumstances in which they now lived.
His guard's features showed incredulity when he saw Faren giving a brief and firm nod. He then turned to the door and took a half step, stopped abruptly, but didn't look back, knew that this would be an affront to the orders he had just received, both from his king and his commander. He hurriedly pushed the door, closing it afterwards, in order to fulfill the royal orders.
The king and Faren let out a light sigh. The mob of angry villagers had reached the main gate. Both heard the shouts of order from the guards, several were already standing on the wall, none armed with bows or arrows.
The aging face and the distant and moist eyes of the king contrasted with the full, red hair on his head. The eyebrows joined in a way that Faren never saw. He thought of turning his face away when he saw the silent tears rolling down the king's cheeks, and it didn't take him long to do so and to feel that he wanted to cry too.
– Your Majesty, there is no need to stay here as a sacrifice. The Castle of Açor has already consented to your asylum, with his support none of this will be necessary. Let's use the passage and...
– How many enoughs I'll have to say for you to shut your mouth, guard.
But in spite of the words, the rudeness didn’t overflow from his tongue, as he did when an order from him was not followed correctly. The tiredness and the giving up in resisting were visible all over him, even the usual brightness and abundant wealth of his clothes seemed to be vanished, even if the jewels were decorating him the way the queen thought necessary.
The guards at the main gate bravely resisted the onslaughts at the thick oak gate reinforced with steel strips. The king asked himself briefly if his guards wouldn't use weapons against his villagers the way he had ordered, he knew what the fear of death could do to a man, even a trained man, and it was against death that those guards now would have to resist without hurting anyone, or if it happened, not too much of hurting.
Following the look of his king, Faren, knowing him, spoke with a mixture of pride and pain.
– Most can be made of dumbs and occasional drunks, but I trained them myself and I know what they are capable of. Once the order is given, the order will be fulfilled. Until the last one falls.
The king tightened the stones on the parapet, making the knuckles even whiter and the skin even thinner.
– If I ordered you to go with the queen and the others, what would you do?
Faren restrained himself from running down the castle steps, across the courtyards and stables, and drawing his sword against each of those people, but his king had ordered that this should not be done. No villager would be killed or hurt by the king's blade. He was educated and brought up to follow any order coming from the lips of his king. He swallowed hard and felt his hands tremble slightly. No. He didn't give the order. He didn't give the order. As he raised his eyes, he saw the king was watching him with a newfound regret.
The gate finally opened a considerable gap and the villagers roared even more, as if they had just captured the king himself. Faren closed his eyes tightly, feeling the sweat running down his back under his armor.
The king's voice was peaceful, sounding like a father releasing his son for a long journey to a distant land. Faren shook his head like an angry horse.
– No. I have sworn to protect you with my life. If my death is a consequence of this, it will be one embraced with virtue and loyalty.
Moreover, that was not an order, not exactly...
– Faren, this is an order. Go.
Faren took a deep, loud breath, drew his sword and took two steps towards his king, facing him with fury and determination, raising his sword. The king watched in astonishment all the rapid and steady movements, and watched the sword falling to the roof of a lower tower that served as storage for the stables' tools. He closed his eyes and sighed. He knew Faren was stubborn, but not that stubborn.
– Was the drama really necessary?
Faren lifted his chin proudly and ignored the king's jocose tone.
– I may ask the same, my king.
The guards now shouted for the formation of a human barrier to contain those who had already managed to get through the axe-broken gate.
The king pinched the top of his nose, a vein protruding from his temple.
– If only I could be sure that my wife and the others are safe.
– The only ones who know the passage are us, Konstantin, Arian and Mikele. And none of the children knew, so there was no way they could have talked their way through it. Even those in Habichtsburg don't know how we will get there safely.
– Yes. He seemed to me to be even a little skeptical that we could pull off such a feat, – he shrugged so lightly that Faren didn't even notice. – Maybe that's exactly why he supported us, because he didn't think we would make it out of here.
– Why do we still talk as if the two of us were with them?
The two of them got silent. The wind was blowing the last chills of winter, and the smell of the pine trees invaded the king's room in a much friendlier way than the rumble of the fight below. Both the king and the guard stood silently by the window, calculating how long it would take for the castle guard to appease the villagers' wrath or for the villagers to storm all the rooms until they found the king.
– Even if the guard resists and the villagers don't advance any further for the day, won't your Majesty follow through the passage?
–Their anger does not come from my person, nor my title, Faren. You know that very well. It is neither anger nor hatred what we see down there and hear from up here. Those people are afraid. A legitimate fear of me and my family, and I can't blame them for any of it.
– They are ungrateful, that's what they are. After all these years as their king, they have the audacity to call for the head of the one who fed them and protected them.
– Yes, they do. And I have the audacity to give them my head in exchange for my family's. I can't blame them for what I am, Faren.
– But can they?
The king turned to the courtyard again, watching the fight between the guards and the villagers, without actually seeing it. He was distant, seeing something that Faren could not see, and that angered him from the bottom of his heart.
– Today they are afraid, but later fear will give way to understanding and no blood will need to be spilled...no more...
A shout of jubilation cut through the cold wind after the human barrier of guards was pierced and gave way to a flood of villagers into the courtyard. There.
That was it. Not a trial by a council, not an incurable disease that would give the throne to the next heir of the royal line, not a confrontation in battle in the protection of his kingdom. No. Those were not the causes of a king's downfall.
Faren took a deep breath, following his king, closed his eyes the same way he did, felt an uneasy vibration come from the angry mob and tried not to feel hatred, anger or fear. But it was difficult. The king put a hand on his shoulder.
– Accept it, Faren, and everything will be fine. I promise.
He felt the security and reassurance that poured from the king to him like waves of a placid summer tide. Tears transpassed without warning through his closed eyelids. Was his king crying too? He couldn't tell, for his eyes remained closed until the crowd stormed the room. If his king felt any blows struck against him, Faren couldn't tell either, for he himself didn't feel the moment when his loyal soul was taken away, such was the love he felt coming from his king.
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