Giles was standing beside her in a flash. Everyone pulled out their weapons and readied to defend themselves. Akerun held up his hands. His weapons were sheathed. He was tall and stood with arrogance and an air of confidence that stemmed from the belief in his absolute authority. He wore matching red and black Cerian armor, a rare and expensive combination that no doubt had been subsidized by the guild’s coffers. He had a mocking smile painted across his face and his dark eyes were alight with a thirst for vengeance.
“She came to my officer meeting to confess her sins and beg forgiveness,” he said, voice dripping with sarcasm. “I threw her out of the meeting that instant. If it wasn’t for your lover, Bob, arguing so passionately for you, you wouldn’t even still be a member of this guild. He was so convinced you deserved another chance that even when we gave you your just punishment, stripping you of rank and vassals, he gave up all his rank as well to join you. Such a cute couple. All but exiled for your stupidity.”
Rill blushed with embarrassment and fury but she made no response.
“Rill made a mistake but it wasn’t deserving of the punishment you gave her,” Giles spat out. Rill disagreed but said nothing. She had made a small mistake yes, but that error had cost the guild too much. She only ever wanted to help and to know she had betrayed her guild and her monarch’s trust… No, her punishment was exactly right. She had forgiven Giles for what he had done with the information but she could not forgive herself for giving it to him in the first place. She was responsible for all the damage it had caused.
“Oh!” Akerun said, mock surprise on his face, “Have you captured yourself another lover? Someone to defend your precious, non-existent honor?” He pretended to squint at them though Rill knew he was able to see quite well in the darkness. Akerun gasped dramatically.
“Giles? Is that you? Oh my! Have you been under her spell this entire time? If you swear to abandon your lover, I might be willing to bring you back into the guild.”
It was a lie. Akerun would never let Giles rejoin. He was baiting them. Rill flexed her sword hand. She desperately wanted to wipe that smile off his face. He was taking this too far. But, she was not an officer anymore and only officers could bring a challenge the monarch. So she held her tongue and her sword arm in check.
Giles was apparently less restrained than her though. He lunged forward. She made a grab at him but missed. Akerun pulled a golden orb from a pouch and a short sword from a sheath at his waist. Giles raised his bladestaff but a snapped command from the darkness behind Akerun brought Giles up short.
Rill blinked in surprise then saw Corrin, the Celestial Dragon herself step into the room beside Akerun. She was the leader of Giles’s new guild. It was an honor guild like the Knights of Ird but it was the largest and most respected. Looking at the two guild monarch’s side by side was a study in contrasts. While Akerun was tall, dark and imposing, Corrin was small, pale, and dressed in robes that glowed faintly with a soft white light.
Corrin reminded Rill of Jachrya, the guild monarch who was killed in the first few battles with the demon lords. Akerun had succeeded him. Rill couldn’t help but think that if Jachrya was still here, none of this mess would have ever happened. Seeing Corrin standing there, exuding command tempered by kindness, Rill thought that It was no wonder Giles went to Corrin after his exile.
“Giles, you will not fight,” Corrin said calmly. Then she turned to Akerun, “An explanation, if you please. Why are we hunting these people?
Giles shifted to a ready defensive stance and waited. Rill could see the way his left arm trembled just slightly as he made the move. Whether it was from fatigue or from his wound she couldn’t tell. More people began entering the room behind the two monarchs. Some from the Dragons and some from the Knights. Unfortunately most of those from Rill’s guild seemed to be Akerun’s personal guard. The only officer there was Eiocynthe, a general and as old a member as Giles had been.
Akerun laughed and spread one arm to indicate Giles, Rill and their companions, “Here they are Corrin, just as I said they would be. Traitors all. Sowing discord among us. Trying to divide us so that we will lose the war.” He pointed at Rill. “All under this little witch’s love spell. Giles infiltrated your guild in order to scout out new targets for her and find information she could sell. He is a traitor. An oathbreaker.”
“That’s absurd!” One of Giles’s vassals spoke up at once. “Giles is loyal when his oath is given!”
“Oh? Then why did he abandon us? Why did he leave the Knights of Ird; a guild, he previously professed many times, held his deepest oaths.”
“My oaths were to Jachrya. Not you.” Giles retorted. “You’ve changed the Knights. They’re not what they once were with few exceptions.”
Akerun’s eyes roamed over the group, victory in his eyes.
“And yet, you left, causing great harm to my guild. And here you are with other traitors only recently discovered in the Knights.” His gaze returned to Rill. “I should have removed you from the guild the moment your guilt was found out, Rill.” He spat at her. It landed far short as there were several dozen yards between them but the meaning was clear.
Rill was so stunned by the lies she was speechless. She had not, would not, do any of the things Akerun accused her of. She made a mistake! That was it!
Rugaba moved up beside her and said loudly, “If it wasn’t for people like Rill, you wouldn’t have a guild left after the mess you’ve made of it! You can’t blame all the troubles of our guild on Rill and Giles!” Rill wished he had not spoken, had not drawn attention to himself. Now Akerun would surely mark him for persecution too.
“Keep your mouth shut while the adults are talking, recruit.” Akerun said with an air of dismissal. Rugaba bristled but Rill quickly murmured to him to remain calm while Akerun turned to the rest of the people in the room. He told them of her betrayal and Giles’s involvement; except he twisted it- making it sound like she was an enemy saboteur instead of well-meaning, over-worked officer looking for help in the wrong places. She felt anger and opened her mouth to speak but Giles beat her to it, speaking mildly.
“Are you quite finished? Because Rill was never a traitor, Akerun,” He shook his head, “And you know it.”
“She admitted her guilt herself! I had nothing to do with it.”
“You knew she was talking to me. Asking me for advice. A mistake to be sure but that doesn’t make her a traitor. Especially since nothing she ever told me left my own lips. Of that, I swear.”
Rill looked at Giles, startled.
“We all know the worth of your word.” Akerun said nastily. “You and this little witch.” Rill grabbed Ru’s arm as he lunged forward and held him half-heartedly but firmly back. Her heart leapt into her throat. Everything that happened, was it really not all her fault? The in-fighting, the broken friendships, the near collapse of the guild…was it really not on her shoulders? She listened, desperately wanting to believe.
Akerun continued speaking, mockingly, “Jumping to the defense of your mistress? Just what’d I’d expect from love-sick traitors.”
“You’re insane and a coward,” Giles said. “You get drunk every sevenday and spout your mouth off about your guild’s business in every high-end tavern of Faelamont. That’s how your oh-so-sensitive information was leaked.”
There was silence in the room for a few moments. Rill’s heart hammered in her chest. Not her fault, it seemed to say. Ever since she realized the mistake she had made, a hole had formed in the pit of her stomach. It gnawed at her and affected everything she did. And with each guildmate who left, with every argument that took place, the hole got deeper and darker.
As she stood there now and realized that Giles was speaking truth, that he really had not betrayed her trust, she felt the gnawing begin to subside. And somewhere deep in that pit, a white-hot rage was kindled.
He used her. He abused her. He needed a scapegoat! Someone to take the fall for the information he had leaked. And she, naive as she was, played the role perfectly for him. She struggled to control her feelings but they filled up the hole and burned steadily within her like a miniature sun.
“We only have your word, Giles, against Akerun’s.” Corrin said, “I trust you because you’ve never given me reason to doubt you but the issue must be settled.”
“I have witnesses,” Giles said.
A murmur went through the small crowd and that gave Akerun pause. Rill had a small moment of satisfaction to see a flicker of doubt pass through his features.
“Who are your witnesses?” Akerun asked, eyes narrowed.
Giles began to name people, all of them friends or acquaintances they had in common.
“Liars, all of them. Under her spell!” Akerun pointed at Rill.
“And Eiocynthe.” Giles said.
Another murmur swept through the crowd and many people glanced at Eiocynthe who stood to the side of Akerun, completely calm. She was unquestionably loyal to the guild. Rill knew one thing about her that the others didn’t though. She wasn’t always honest. Eiocynthe always did what was in the best interest of the guild.
Akerun glanced at Eiocynthe, assessing and Rill suddenly realized that Akerun knew that little fact about Eiocynthe too. Eiocynthe said nothing to confirm nor deny what Giles claimed. Rill sighed. Typical Eio, staying notoriously neutral until a clear threat to the guild was established.
“None of your witnesses are here, Giles, except for the Lady Eiocynthe who seems inclined not to speak on the subject for the time being,” Corrin said, disapproval in her voice as she glanced at Eio. “But, there is one way to settle this. A trial by combat, however you are–”
Corrin didn’t get a chance to finish for as soon as the word ‘combat’ was out of her mouth Akerun raised his orb and threw a fireball at Giles. He dodged and then started to close the distance. He dodged two more fireballs before reaching Akerun who snapped out one more quick spell to armor himself before raising his sword. He caught Giles’s staff before it stabbed him, but only just. He murmured another spell and Giles was thrown back a step or two, body convulsing from an electric shock. Akerun rushed in and thrust with his sword but he wasn’t quick enough. Giles was a good fighter and had fought mages before. He could shake off their little tricks. At least he usually could.
Rill noted with trepidation that the blood from his side was beginning to drip down his thigh and onto the floor. She didn’t think Giles would last long, and he didn’t. The fight was swift and brutal. Had Giles been fresh, as Akerun was, he might have beaten him. But he was not. He was tired and wounded. After only a minute or two Akerun feinted a blow and Giles fell for it, raising his staff to defend his head. Then Akerun came in with his orb hand and punched Giles hard in his wounded side. Giles buckled and fell to his knees, losing his grip on the staff. It clattered to the floor and rolled out of easy reach.
“Let this be a lesson to all!” Akerun said, raising his sword to deliver a final blow to Giles.
To Be Continued on 9/29/2014
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