Chapter 76:

Chapter 76 - Sia! (Part 3)

The Flight of The Draykes


We marched in the blistering heat of the day and the entire time; I kept having to resist the urge to let the stretcher down and look at Faust - to see if he was still living.

But I resisted it as his words kept echoing in my head.

I thought of all the moments that we had shared.

Right from when he was that tiny blubbering toddler who would come wobbling to hug me every time he saw me.

Or the time when I went through my darkest days and he became the light that broke through and pulled me out.

All the way till now, where he’s been stubbornly enduring all the pain and humiliation, only for it to not change his innate kind nature that I liked so very much.

At times smiling, at times frowning, and at times eyes filling with unbidden tears, I marched, carrying Faust with Ares on the other end of the stretcher in a vertical file.

We finally stopped a few hours before night for a quick meal of dried rations like biscuits, and strips of salted jerky that had been replenished from the stocks of Viscount Drayke’s fallen ‘allies’ and the camp's own provisions.

Checking on Faust and seeing that he was still in the same state, I went to ask Sir Galen to check up on him when I spotted the Knight making his way toward us.

Gratefully, I nodded to him and he tiredly waved the greeting away before asking us perfunctorily, “How is he, nevermind, let me check him.”

Crouching, He lit a candle and opened Faust’s eyelids, and shined the light on them, before frowning and extinguishing the candle.

He then looked at me and said in a low voice, “You might want to turn around,” and then before I could answer, his needles were dancing as the wound was again undone and sewn shut in a matter of moments.

Feeling the pain in my heart and my stomach that clenched with worry, I stifled the feelings and stood, watching each moment with unblinking eyes as I tried to understand what he was doing and whether I could do it too.

For you never knew how the situation might unfold and it was only right to prepare for the worst and act for the best.

Exactly how the Teacher had taught us.

Seeing Sir Galen off, I turned to Ares, who stood, eyebrows furrowed as he looked at me.

Raising my own eyebrows inquiringly at him, he hesitated for a moment before saying, “Can you watch over him? I’ll be back in a few moments.”

Nodding, I watched him disappear into the small group of soldiers before a few minutes later; he came back with a lanky teen with a shock of unruly black hair who was right now limping rather badly as he walked beside Ares.

“Damon,” I greeted the teen as he came up and gave me a nod in return.

“I’ll take care of him, you don’t need to worry about it,” said Damon and I was about to question him as to what he meant when Ares interjected and said, “If we’re carrying Faust and someone attacks, we’ll need someone to hold them off while we let Faust down. So I went to ask Damon for help.”

Understanding dawned on me before my cheeks blushed red in embarrassment. I was so busy worrying that I had overlooked such a basic detail.

Realizing what was on my mind, Ares smiled comfortingly before saying, “It’s alright. You’ve got too much on your mind right now.”

Shooting it back at him, I asked, “What about you? Don’t you also have the same things running through your mind?”

Looking down, he said in a low voice with determination, “I have the same thoughts and more running through my mind, but I will not allow them to distract me as I promised him I’ll become stronger.”

Then, raising his head and smiling at me, he finished by saying, “Besides, I have little to take care of since you’re already doing everything before I can even move.”

Smiling back at him, I nodded and then approached Damon and stuck out my hand. “We’ve met before, but I just want to thank you for looking out for him in the first battle,”

Taking his glove off and shaking my hand firmly, he said with a grim smile, “Taking care of him? The little monster Bal near made all of us useless. We couldn’t bear that, so we rushed up to at least get a few notches on our sword.”

Laughing, I felt the tension drain away as I recalled Faust stepping forward, blade slicing unstoppably until he was deep in enemy ranks and in danger of being enveloped until Damon and I had stepped forth and the entire line had surged forth unstoppably.

Looking at the pale face of Faust, Damon had a complex mix of emotions run through his face before he turned to me and said, “I’ll take point. You’re in charge of defense and Ares will assist me if there’s any trouble.”

Nodding, I gave my assent while I traced my hands over my shield, the one that Faustus gave.

Catching my movement, Damon looked at the shield before his eyes became as round as saucers and he exclaimed, “The Shield of Draconis!”

I looked at him puzzled and he must have caught my expression because his eyebrows shot up even higher than they were and he practically shouted out the words, “That’s the shield that the legendary wife of the founder of House Drayke used in battle. It’s been passed down through the ages, and it’s seen more war than we can imagine!”

Caressing the shield, my eyes misted as I remembered how casually Faustus had handed it to me and while I knew it was from the treasury, I didn’t know it was the family heirloom.

Tips of the ear blushing a bit from the wife of the founder part, I looked at Faust with complex emotions on my face as he lay there.

Finishing the rest of the story - which I hadn’t heard - Damon heaved in a deep breath of awe before he inclined his head to me and took his place at the head of our small group as the signal for gathering up to march was given.

And then we were off, the few of us a stark line against the beautiful scenery that was fast becoming grim as night fell and shadows lengthened.

As the stars twinkled far above, we sighted a city in front of us and we sucked in our breaths at the sight of it from where we stood on a raised hill.

The city was awe-inspiring. It dwarfed Draconis City and was a sprawling mess of buildings that stretched from the horizon, which sparkled, to the walled castle that lay in the middle to our front.

Letting out the breaths, Ares and I gazed upon our first sight of the sea. The middle sea that as its name implied, was smack dab in the middle of Protos.

It was our destination and our hope for safety.

Moving ahead cautiously in a huge circle, we marched for yet another few hours as the deceptively near city enlarged in our vision.

The reason for the huge circle was that the travelers from Draconis to Sea Drayke were just us, while the actual traffic came from within the Kingdom and towards the western gate of Sea Drayke, where the port was and where the caravans pitched their tents.

Sea Drayke, by itself, was a small castle. It was the sprawling markets and the port area that lent it the illusion of grandeur and magnificence.

Even now, you could smell the tang of the sea and the sounds of non-stop hawking and bickering came along with the crash as drunken brawls took place amidst sailors who were on leave on the shore.

The buildings were decorated exclusively in sea blue instead of the blue upon black of Draconis city and the streets were only tiled in the center of the city with the rest being makeshift paths that ran through crowded temporary resting quarters where people weaved in between ropes and other pliers of the trades.

We should have been relieved, but instead, we were even grimmer as we approached the city walls.

For we reeked of slaughter.

A small group split apart from our main group and limped their way to the guards, who were already paying attention to us.

As the two groups engaged in conversation, they threw a lot of suspicious looks our way before our side with exaggerated gestures, said something that took away the animosity of the guards.

In a movement too quick to be seen, a pouch was exchanged between the leading figures of the two groups and now, sympathetic expressions could be seen on the guard's faces.

Then the group from our side returned and, without saying anything, guided us to a place where we could pitch our tents.

Soon, our tents raised and food bubbling inside pots, we waited anxiously as a small part of our Knights - the most elite of them - made their way back to the guards, and then another pouch was exchanged, before the wicket gate, a gate within the gate of the castle, was opened and they passed through it.

The group comprised Sir Galen, Dame Bathory, Sir Leonidas, Sir Faaris, and Viscount Drayke, all of them gold-ranked with Viscount Drayke being the sole weaponmaster.

They were the infiltration and extraction team who had disguised themselves as ordinary soldiers who wished to report the ‘attack’ on our ‘caravan’ by ‘bandits’ to the viscount and his men.

The plan was simple. They would make their way to the inner castle and rescue Viscount Draykes’ family and rush to the port where we would be waiting and together, we’d board a ship and set sail for wherever Sir Galen called ‘home’.

The ones remaining to hold the fort were Sir Chase, Sir Egon, Sir Aaron, and Sir Patrick.

All of them were tense and on high alert, though on the surface they appeared to be normal soldiers - much like our infiltrators.

Our remaining actual ordinary soldiers were at peace, though. One way or the other, things would come to pass. They would either live, or they would die.

Either way, they would burn as bright as they could before their flame of life was extinguished.

As for Ares and me?

We waited peacefully with Faust as the night turned a deeper shade of black, and Damon kept watch.

All the way till a few hours before dawn.

When the glow of the sun lit the sky, but the sun had not yet risen.