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After the Sword

By Teri White
Page 1 of 11

Ah! He wanders forth again;

We cannot keep him; now, as then,

There's a secret in his breast

Which will never let him rest.

lDYLLS OF THE KING, Alfred, Lord Tennyson


Yet another dusk was falling, slowly and delicately, casting a pearly mauve glow over the landscape. Silence began to reign, as the birds and other creatures of the forest prepared for the coming night.

Two figures on horseback appeared then, moving slowly through the encroaching shadows, so quiet that they might have been nothing more than shadows themselves.

The first horse, a large white charger that clearly showed its primarily Arabian heritage, reached the top of a small rise and paused there. King Geraint sat easily atop the steed as his gaze swept the valley below. "I sometimes forget how very beautiful this land of mine is," he said quietly.

Bedwyr urged his own even larger horse forward slowly, until the jet-black mount was beside the white stallion, and he was shoulder-to-shoulder with Geraint. His eyes, much colder and less soft than those of the King, surveyed the same view. He had no comment to make on the beauty of the sight, however. "I see far too many places where our enemies might well be lying in wait for us," was what he said.

Geraint laughed for the first time in many days, a great booming sound that sent several birds into the air from fright. "Ahh, Bedwyr," he said, wry amusement and rough affection mingled in equal parts in his voice. "You have not a single drop of sentimentality in your being."

"And a good thing, too," Bedwyr replied crisply. "Sentiment did not save our lives five nights ago."

The momentary humor vanished from Geraint's face. He sighed. His brow furrowed now as his gaze swept the valley below again.

Although he could not regret speaking the truth, Bedwyr was sorry that his words had saddened the King. He knew that they were both thinking of the same thing: the attack upon Castle Caerwent, the violent treason that had sent the King and his Knight fleeing for their very lives. The treachery that had made Geraint a fugitive in his own land.

The bitter memory wrapped both men in a shroud of silence.

Of course, the attack had not been completely unexpected, at least by Bedwyr. He had tried so many times to warn Geraint about the enemies that lurked within the very heart of the Court.

But Geraint, for all that he was a good and wise King, remained an innocent about so many things. He looked with gentle, trusting eyes at others and so did not see the treachery, the deceit, the betrayal. Bedwyr, however, fixed his icy stare on those same beings and saw nothing but those things.

Sometimes he felt as if his King and he inhabited different worlds entirely.

One had to give the traitors credit, at least, for not being fools: they had chosen their time well.

Ffynon Gwyl was nearly at an end. As always happened during Spring Festival, everyone, including the King's own guard, had relaxed a little. The medd was flowing generously, and all eyes were on the performers--the jesters and the jugglers and the dancing girls--all of whom had saved their finest tricks for this, the last night of the festival.

The King was enjoying himself. He had, perhaps, indulged a little too freely in the medd as well. Bedwyr sat beside him at the long table, abstaining from the strong, honeyed drink, and watching. Watching not the performers, but the faces of the crowd. His dark, perpetually suspicious eyes missed nothing.

Geraint leaned closer and lay a fond hand on his shoulder. "So solemn, my cydymaith."

"One of us must keep a sober mind in these uneasy times," Bedwyr replied. "If I am your friend, that task falls to me."

The King laughed softly so that no one else could hear. "What would I do without my most loyal Knight, the noble Bedwyr?"

"It does not bear thinking of." Bedwyr gave him a faint smile.

And then, in the very next instant, he sensed that something was terribly wrong. There was no sound of trouble, no sight of an enemy, nothing that would have alerted anyone save Bedwyr, who was widely known to have an insight keener than most men. He straightened in the chair, at the same time reaching for the blade at his side. "Highness," he said softly, "we are leaving."

Geraint squinted at him. "What?"

Bedwyr knew that there was no time to waste in further explanations. He simply clasped a hand around Geraint's arm, and dragged the King back through the doorway and into the corridor. "There is trouble approaching," he said, not stopping, despite Geraint's confused muttering.

In moments, they were moving quickly along the allure-wall walkway, behind the parapets, heading for the secret exit known only to the two of them.

Abruptly, Geraint dug his heels into the stone floor. He was a big man, larger than Bedwyr in both height and breadth, and stubborn; when he did not wish to be moved, he would not be. "What about the others?" he said.

Bedwyr dismissed that concern with an impatient shake of his head. "The people will need their King when this is all over," he said. "And we do not know who can be trusted in the Court."

That truth, simple and painful, brought an expression of anguish to Geraint's face.

Although he begrudged the loss of even one more moment, Bedwyr stayed still. "Do you trust me, Highness?" he asked in a soft voice.

Geraint's tawny eyes darkened until they were almost black as midnight. "I do, of course. I have always trusted you, Bedwyr."

"Then come."

They began to run in earnest then, through the winding passage, to the hidden door. Behind them, what Bedwyr had sensed was now happening. They could hear the sounds of pitched battle being fought. Geraint reacted like the King he was, his body tensing, wanting desperately to turn and run back to defend his castle. Bedwyr's grip, however, was relentless. Bedwyr cared not at all about the huge stone and timber fortress, nor even about the innocent subjects who were undoubtedly dying at the hands of the attackers.

Only one thing mattered to him: that King Geraint was safely away.

They slipped through the exit.

Their horses, liveried and carrying side packs of provisions, stood waiting.

Geraint looked at Bedwyr, a brow lifting curiously.

The Knight shrugged. "I believe that one should be prepared for any possible occurrence," was all he said, not bothering to add that every night for the past month these mounts had been so readied. His job was to protect the life of the King; so he had sworn on the occasion of his colee, and so it would be. As long as they both lived.

Even if the throne were lost forever, even if the land were completely taken over by pretenders, even if no one but a lone Knight still called Geraint by his royal title, Bedwyr would do his duty.

In just a moment, they were both mounted and riding away into the night. Each man glanced back only once at the castle where it rose from the narrow ridge overlooking the river. The black sky was alight with the colours of the fires that now raged behind them.

Castle Caerwent was fallen to the traitors.

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