Wulfgard: Keeping Faith

Flash Fiction

The place was a sleepy one, a little hamlet not far from the town of Pikeston. Squire Ameliora de Fontaine straightened up on the back of her horse, looking over the knoll for a better gander at the small cluster of buildings toward which they rode. A creek running through town brought the structures together for the common purpose of gathering around a water-source. She counted only six small buildings – a far cry from the grand city she and her knight had left far behind.

Alongside her, Knight-Captain Sir Stevan Randal observed the town, as well. Ameliora gave him a look, but she read little in his solemn gaze. Even knowing him as well as she did, she still found that gaze hard to meet. His eyes hardly seemed natural, bright and piercing as they were, their clear blue vibrancy making others dull and washed-out by comparison. Would-be flatterers often said the same thing about Ameliora’s own eyes, but she felt that hers paled against Stevan’s.

“Hard to believe there’s a warlock defiling the dead in such a little place,” Ameliora commented.

Stevan nodded. He removed his grand, winged helmet to reveal his chiseled, handsome features and short blond hair. “The warlock probably thinks he can escape our notice,” he said. “As for everyone else, some of them might be wary of knights from so far away… Let’s make a gentle first impression.”

Ameliora removed her own helmet, also bearing wings, and returned it to her saddlebag as Stevan did the same. She shook out her long golden hair, taking a deep breath and steeling herself for whatever welcome awaited them at the bottom of the hill.

Stevan led the way, keeping his horse at a steady walk. Villagers emerged from their homes the moment they neared, staring openly, while others watched from windows. Ameliora couldn’t help but note that she saw no temple in the little hamlet – perhaps that was the source of their problems.

“Sir Templar!” called an older man who rushed out to meet them. “And… my lady?” he sounded confused to see a woman in armor. Ameliora sat up straighter still in response.

“She’s my squire,” answered Stevan. “I am Sir Stevan Randal, and this is Ameliora de Fontaine. Word was sent to Starward Citadel about strange occurrences. We’re here to help.”

“Thank all the gods,” said the old man, beckoning Stevan over. “Please, come. We must speak.”

Stevan dismounted, nodding for Ameliora to do the same. He followed the old man into a nearby building, one of the largest in town. Ameliora hesitated just long enough to glance around the dirt streets of the sleepy little town – and catch the eye of another fellow standing just outside the door of a house farther down the way. His eyes darted furtively about before he beckoned her over. Ameliora hesitated to see such a dreary man, clad in filthy burlap clothing, motioning her desperately into his rickety wooden shack, but she wasn’t supposed to judge.

So, setting her feelings aside, she went to the man just before he disappeared into the building, leaving the door cracked behind him. Resting a hand on the hilt of the sword at her hip, Ameliora stepped inside.

Darkness awaited her… darkness too deep to be natural.

Cold washed over her like a bucket of ice water dumped over her head. A shiver running up her spine, she drew her sword and whirled – only to face more darkness. She couldn’t see.

“Ah, a young squire,” said a voice that drifted around the room, coming from no single direction. “Serving a monster clad in the armor of a holy man…”

“You dare slander the name of a Knight Templar – show yourself!” Ameliora demanded, swinging her sword. She struck nothing. Fear seeped deeper into her veins, bringing more cold with it.

“Tell me this, maiden: why would a man who worships a star flee from sight when the sun shrouds its gaze?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, nor do I care,” Ameliora spat. “You’re a servant of darkness spewing lies! Face me, so that the light of Astra may strike you down!”

“Do I need to face you for the light of Astra to strike me?” taunted the voice. She swung again at nothing – and caught nothing. “Weak.”

The light of Astra was not weak – but then why was she alone? Was Astra not with her always?

Fear crept into her mind. With it came doubt. Ameliora hesitated, grasping her weapon in a death-grip and staring out at the total darkness enveloping her. How did this warlock blind a warrior of the light? Did light not always pierce the darkness?

“Look at you!” the warlock said, laughing. “Behold a mighty servant of Astra, cowering in the dark! Such unsurity, such lack of faith! Why serve the light when darkness will always overtake it?”

Shadow filled her very soul. She backed a pace only to stumble. Her grip on her sword faltered. Warmth left the air around her, left her skin. And for one, fleeting moment, she wondered: had Astra forsaken her, to let her die in the hands of evil?

Then a light pierced the darkness.

Vision returned to her. A dismal room appeared from the blackness: a simple peasant’s hut. Instead of standing, however, she now pressed her back against the far wall, her sword-hand trembling – and she heard the warlock hiss like a serpent.

Blinding radiance shone from the doorway. Through it stepped a tall figure clad in armor shining red, gold, and silver: Sir Stevan Randal.

He spoke not a word, blade ready and round, starred shield on his arm. The warlock lifted a hand – and, in hardly a blink, Stevan surged forward… and severed it from his arm.

Blood spewed from the stump of the warlock’s wrist, spilling across the wooden floor. He staggered back, eyes wide, breath too stuck in his throat to even scream. But when he looked up, he gazed into the bright light that followed at Stevan’s back, and he pinched his eyes shut against sudden blindness.

Yet he raised his other hand, calling out in a language that made Ameliora’s skin crawl. Tendrils of shadow reached from the farthest reaches of the room – and Stevan’s sword shone in the light in the doorway, shimmering like the stars on a clear night. Neatly, his blade severed the warlock’s head.

Head first, then body, the servant of evil toppled to the floor. Suddenly, the shadow disappeared. The light soon followed. Stevan lowered his bloodstained blade and bowed his head, murmuring a few words of prayer in the High Imperial language. Ameliora knew what they meant: he asked the gods to fairly judge the warlock’s soul.

She still didn’t move, pinned against the wall. Cold fear still flowed through her veins, but she took a deep breath, steadying herself. Finally, she straightened and swallowed, returning her blade to its sheath at her hip. Stevan looked her over.

“Darkness may blot out the light,” said Stevan, “but the light is always there… Always. You just have to have faith.”

Ameliora nodded. She cast a quick glance at the beheaded warlock, then looked away. Stevan motioned toward the door, and she gladly went.

“I know the light is stronger than the shadow,” Ameliora said as she stepped outside once again, pulling in a lungful of fresh air and clearing her mind. “But… for a moment, I almost wasn’t sure. I’m not sure how he did that.”

“Those who serve demons find ways to twist your mind and even your faith,” replied Stevan. “They’ll show you visions of darkness – even images of yourself you never wanted to see. Every servant is different, as are their demon masters. In the face of such unpredictable enemies, sometimes it can hard to remember hope is stronger than despair. But no matter what happens, Astra is there – even when you might think she’s not.”

A moment passed. Ameliora hesitated. It gave Stevan time to speak first.

He said dryly, “Well… I’ll have to let the local elder know we found his problem and dealt with it.”

She let out a small, mirthless laugh. “Yes, I suppose so.” She licked her lips. “Sir Stevan?”

He turned to regard her again, arching a brow. “Yes?”

“There was something the warlock said. I know nothing they say can be trusted – not evil, not its servants. And yet, I’m not sure…”

Stevan slung his shield across his back again. “You can ask me, Ameliora. Having questions is human.”

She nearly cringed at the word. “That’s what he said, actually. That you, you’re not… human.”

The silence that followed told her more than words. Stevan’s face scarcely changed, but something crossed his bright blue eyes. Those impossibly bright eyes.

Reluctantly, she prompted, “Was that also a lie?”

Stevan furrowed his brow. At length, he answered, “It wasn’t a lie. But the truth of that is between me and our goddess. I ask that only Astra judge me for what I do, even for what I am.”

She said nothing. But she also felt she understood, at least to a degree. With her half-Elven blood…

“And,” Stevan finished, “I ask that you trust that judgment.”

Doubt crossed her mind, but faith overcame it. Ameliora lifted her head high and gave a firm nod. Stevan offered a small smile. It was a handsome smile, though she shouldn’t have thought so.

He turned to leave, leading the way back to the village elder. Ameliora followed in his wake, yet she said, “If you’ll pardon my boldness, can I at least ask what you are, then, Sir?”

Stevan actually chuckled. “I’m your mentor, that’s what I am. Now come on. You’ve still got a lot to learn.”