They both stood there, not speaking, unmoving until Corrin stepped into the circle formed by the bodies of the onlookers.
“I believe that this fight was a fairer trial by combat. The issue is decided. Rill and her associates, including Giles, one of my own, are exonerated of all claims made against them by Akerun, Monarch of the Knights of Ird. Let it be heard in all the land that they are honorable people, beyond contesting.”
She turned to Rill, “Please lower your weapon.”
Rill struggled to wrestle away the inner fire. But after a few tense moments, during which she enjoyed watching Akerun become paler, she lowered her blade. She did not sheathe it but she did step back. She kept her eyes locked on Akerun.
Then R’za, her liege, was beside her, laying a hand on her arm. She looked at him and reached for the connection they had shared then remembered Akerun had severed it. Her eyes brimmed but she did not cry, not while Akerun watched and could see the pain he caused her.
“R’za, I…” she whispered but he hushed her.
“I brought everyone to witness for you.” He said and gestured around the room.
For the first time, Rill really looked around. The room was full of people from her guild and others and more were coming through a portal in the far corner. Her eyes widened. She looked at R’za, who winked at her.
“Akerun acted without honor and against the tenets of his own guild.” R’za said. “It is the wish of the officers of the Knights of Ird to allow the duel to stand as if Rill was still a member. It is now her right to claim leadership if she wants it.”
Rill was stunned but before she could think of how to answer Akerun howled.
“I will never pass leadership to you witch!”
Eiocynthe came forward and said calmly, “Then you will be hunted down and slain so that leadership may be passed.”
Akerun stared at her in disbelief then fury. He hurled a wall of force at her, knocking her clear across the room and into a wall. She didn’t even scream, just slumped down, momentarily unconscious. The whole room was stunned. Then Akerun muttered a spell unfamiliar even to Rill and someone shouted,
“That’s a Nacomar spell, stop him!”
There was a surge of people, including Rill but they were all too late, too slow. Akerun’s insane laughter echoed in the room as a dark mist enveloped him and he disappeared like smoke on the wind.
“I should have known he was a Nacomar user,” R’za said. “It explains why he was so vehemently opposed to creating a rule that would ban it.”
Rill nodded and looked around.
Several people had rushed over to Eiocynthe who was sitting up and waving them off. The wounded of Rill’s companions were being tended to by magi. R’za handed Rill a pair of healing draughts, knowing she preferred them to magical healing if they were available.
“Thank you,” She said. She felt the power emanating from them. They must have been expensive to make but she drank them down. Instantly she felt more energized and her wounds stopped bleeding and began to close up. She looked ruefully at her split chainmail. That would cost a stack of gold to replace.
She looked up at R’za and asked, “What will happen to the guild now?”
R’za shook his head, “Until Akerun hands over leadership voluntarily or until he is killed so the mantle of power passes on, there’s nothing we can do. I suspect…” He trailed off and she waited. He sighed.
“This will be the end of the Knights of Ird.”
Rill cried then. She didn’t care who saw. At some point Bob arrived and she flung herself into his arms. He just held her until she was cried out. People were leaving but the few who remained had given them a wide berth, a little privacy. R’za had stepped away too but as she got a hold of herself he returned.
“Would you like to rejoin now?” He asked.
She hesitated and he looked unsurprised.
“R’za,” She said then hesitated again. He waited patiently. She glanced at the group gathered around Eiocynthe. Rill overheard something about a hunting party forming but it would have to wait until after the war.
“Anyone who remains in the guild will be focused on vengeance for a time while hunting Akerun.” She said finally. “I think it’s time for a change. We must move forward, leave him behind.”
“What will you do then if you will not rejoin the guild?” R’za asked, a knowing look in his eyes. She flushed a little embarrassed. Of course he would know.
“Bob and I have talked about it a little, once I’d got over the initial shock of my demotion.” She smiled at Bob. “We’d like to form a new guild. One with less rules and no secrecy. It only creates drama, back-biting, infighting, and it doesn’t let the members be responsible for themselves. Few or no officers if we can get away with it; just a joint leadership.”
“I think it’s a perfect idea. Will you recruit from the Knights of Ird?”
Bob shook his head, “We will take members if they want to join but we will not poach. We’ll post on the public boards in the cities.”
R’za nodded. “Wise.”
“Will you join us?” Rill asked, timidly.
R’za thought about it a moment then shook his head. “You might not be interested in vengeance but I am. I blew up a powerful artifact to find out where you were, thinking I was coming to recover a corpse. I thought you had died.” He paused, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. His voice still came out hard and unforgiving, “Akerun tore you from me. Furthermore he has used and abused this guild. My guild. I stood by and let it happen for far too long and for that, I will seek retribution from him. And for what he did to you, I can’t even ask your forgiveness for not seeing his plan and stopping it.”
“R’za, there’s nothing to forgive,” Rill tried to say but he shook his head.
“You forgive too easily Rill. I admire that. But I’m not you.” He said firmly, “Go on little bird. I gave you wings. Fly.”
He walked away. Rill clung to Bob, afraid she would devolve into tears again but she managed to control it.
“Come,” Bob said, pulling her to her feet. “Let’s get some sunlight and fresh air. We have a future to plan.”
For the first time in what felt like hours, Rill smiled happily.
* * *
There was so much interest in the new guild they decided to hold a public meeting on the matter. There had not been a new guild formed in Drieebos for two decades. The Portal Hall in Faelamont had large areas of open space for just such occasions. On the day of the meeting it was packed to overflowing. Most were Knights of Ird but there were plenty of folk from a scattering of other guilds there too. Plus all the guildless citizens; those who focused their efforts on economy rather than fighting. Giles, Eiocynthe, and R’za were there too.
They spoke, Rill and Bob taking turns explaining what their new guild would be like and what would be required of the members. Then they opened the floor to questions. There were many because a guild with few rules was unheard of and people were having a hard time wrapping their minds around it. Some questions came from the few remaining officers of the Knights of Ird, wanting reassurances that they were not going to poach members. Rill assured them they would recruit openly and would encourage any potential members to speak first with their current leaders so they would not be taken off guard.
When they started accepting applicants and getting everyone magically tied together under her’s and Bob’s leadership, Rill was worried. A full quarter of the Knights had joined them. She approached apologetically but Eiocynthe waved her off and told her not to worry about it.
“We expected it when we heard you would be forming your own guild. You and Bob are more popular than you give yourselves credit for. We were prepared and we wish you the best of luck.”
“Thank you,” Rill said, pleased. They chatted a few minutes then Giles approached her. She swallowed and her stomach tightened a little. She really liked Giles but she and Bob had discussed what they would do if he should ask to join. They agreed it would be a no. Whether or not he would fit with the new freestyle way of leadership wasn’t the reason. They simply could not trust him to not come at them someday with a new ultimatum for he was unrepentant of his previous one.
Giles relieved her fears immediately by offering his hand and saying, “I’m staying with the Celestial Dragons but I wanted to come and wish you well.”
“Thank you Giles,” Rill said, trying not to let her relief show through. She shook his hand, “Thank you for everything. You may not realize it but you set in motion a chain of events that’s changed my life. I would never have wished to go through the things I did. But I learned much and I don’t think I would have learned it any other way. I must be more aware of the consequences of my actions. Not just how they affect me, but how they affect the people around me.
“And it’s also led me to a happiness I’ve never known before.” Rill smiled, looking at Bob and around at all her new charges. There was a sense of excitement and adventure in the air. A touch of sadness too, for things of the past that could not ever be retrieved.
“I’m hardly the one to thank. Life has a way of taking turns we never expected.” He smiled then bowed to her. “It has been my pleasure to know you, Lady Rill. I’ll see you on the battlefield.”
“Count on it,” Rill said, quirking a smile at him.
She watched him go until he disappeared through one of the many portals leading to other major cities. She stood watching the swirling red vortex for a moment until someone shouted her name.
“Hey Rill!” It was J’rod, one of Bob’s vassals. “What are we going to name the guild?”
Rill smiled. She had discussed it with Bob many nights. She looked at him but he gestured that she should speak.
“Well, we are members of many different guilds but mostly from the Knights of Ird. We want to be better than what we were. We want to hold ourselves to higher values. To be able to mete out justice by the standards of light, truth, and honor. We are not just knights. We are more than that. And not because some rule tells us to be so but because we want to be true and good. We are paladins who hold to the spirit of the law as well as the letter.”
There were nods all around the room and Rill continued.
“We are also rising from the ashes of much fighting and strife over the past few months. Not just on the Blackened Plains and in the Crater Mounts but also within our old guilds. But we are now made stronger in the forge fires of adversity.”
More nods and this time, a few shouts of agreement.
“And I wish to obey the last command from my previous liege.” R’za looked up at her, startled. She winked at him. “We will spread our new wings and fly into the future to meet whatever adventure it holds for us.
She felt a kindling of fire inside her and drew her sword. Slowly, she raised it into the air. It sparkled in the light, making it look like it was on fire.
“We are the Paladins of the Phoenix.”
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