Originally published at: https://gemsofwar.com/lorekeeper-i-chapter-4-in-doubt-we-trust/
Self-doubt is the sin of the wise.
No doubt is the sin of the fool.
--Old Adanian Saying
General Luther rubbed his tired eyes and sighed. It was entirely possible he was the worst knight who had ever served the royal family of Sword’s Edge.
Lead a thousand men? He couldn’t even look after his own squire.
He’d met a man some years ago by the name of Brian. Brian wanted with all his heart to be a knight, but it would never happen, largely due to the fact that Brian was a severely incompetent, middle-aged, overweight alcoholic, with the social skills of an deranged goat, and the fighting prowess of a three-legged turtle.
They’d traveled together for a time, and Brian had taken to squiring for Luther, fetching his armor, saddling his horse, sharpening his sword, at least when Brian wasn’t hungover. He was a kind and happy soul, if rather easily-distracted, but Luther didn’t have the heart to send him on his way. So he’d left him squiring. Until this morning, that is. Brian couldn’t possibly have survived the horrors they’d faced.
He was a good man, Brian; well-intentioned, and he’d never harmed a soul, even when he was trying to, with a sword in his hand.
And Luther understood now - in many ways that probably made Brian twice the knight he was himself.
The sun was starting to set, casting eerie shadows through the ruins. Luther climbed down from his horse, and began to walk amongst the wounded.
When did it all start to go wrong?
It traced its way right back to when the Queen had been poisoned. Luther was betrayed while trying to find a cure - betrayed by one of his own countrymen with designs on the throne. Over one thousand lives were lost that day - the Order of the Dragon Knights was almost wiped out in a single battle. He should have seen it coming - he was such an old fool.
And yet he’d atoned for that in a way.
Where force had failed, he’d eventually taken the cure by stealth. The Queen had been healed, and the Kingdom had forgiven him, even if he’d never quite forgiven himself.
He felt a tugging on his boot, and looked down to see a young knight, wounded, reaching out.
“Rest easy, son,” Luther said. “You fought bravely.”
“Did we… Did we… win?” the young man asked. His voice was weak, unsteady. Like most of the recruits, it was probably his first battle.
“Every battle is a victory if we learn from it,” Luther reassured him
The young man coughed and closed his eyes. His wounds looked bad. Luther doubted he’d see sunrise. The general kept walking, and thinking about the Queen’s cure.
Truth is, he realised, once he’d returned with the cure, he should have quit there and then. The Queen’s health had returned, stability had been restored to the court, for a while anyway. Nobody would have thought worse of him.
But no, he had to press on and rebuild the Order of the Dragon. It wasn’t hard - he had the goodwill of most everyone in the Kingdom - but the recruits had been so young. Impatient too. Barely men.
“What, ho!” a voice yelled from behind.
Luther spun around. Brian was striding cheerfully towards him, goblet in hand, red wine sloshing from it.
“Brian?” Luther was partly amazed, partly relieved, and partly disgusted. How had a portly, bumble-footed, middle-aged squire survived the battle they’d just run from, when young strong knights lay on the ground, dying. Maybe what they said was true: The Gods look after fools, drunkards, and geese. Brian was at least two of those things.
“Quite a fight, eh?” Brian said, seemingly oblivious to the ravaged bodies he was stepping over. “I raise a toast to Gard and Anu, the Gods of glorious battle! Cheers!”
He stumbled over a shield as he said it, and managed to slop half the wine down the front of his tabard.
“Brian… “ Luther began, all at once once stuck for words. He wasn’t sure whether he was relieved or angry. He was probably both. “I’m glad you’re okay, but please show a little respect for the wounded.”
“Indeed, indeed!” Brian agreed enthusiastically. “Here’s to the wounded. May they… soon… be not wounded!” He drank deeply.
Luther shook his head. It was useless trying to get through to him. Brian’s grip on reality was tenuous at the best of times. After the foes they’d just faced down, it was surprising Brian wasn’t a gibbering mess. He thought about it. Actually, perhaps it was conceivable that Brian had driven some of the Daemons crazy instead.
As always, when Brian was around, Luther felt his mood lightening - as much as it could, surrounded by dying and injured men. But the Black Beast that lurked in his thoughts had been chased away for a time; he was thinking rationally again. He turned his attention back to Brian.
“…and those Goblins we fought,” Brian was saying. “Damned biggest Goblins I’ve ever seen. One had tentacles coming out of its… you know… it’s… ummm… well anyway, here’s to… errr… Tantaculosus, the God of Tentacles! Cheers!”
“They weren’t Goblins,” Luther said.
“Not Goblins?” Brian looked amazed. “But they were green!”
“Not everything green is a Goblin, Brian,” Luther said, then immediately regretted starting a discussion that wasn’t going to lead anywhere sane.
“Yes it is,” Brian replied.
“Broccoli?” Luther offered.
Brian paused, trying to do some mental genealogy regarding the shared ancestry of Goblins and broccoli. Luther used the opportunity to change the subject.
“I opened that portal by accident a few weeks ago. I thought I could close it with the Dragon Knights. I’ve made a terrible mistake… again.”
Brian looked confused, like a puppy who’d just had a bone vanish. “But…”
“I misread the battle. We stood a chance against the Daemons, but when those Barghasts charged from our left flank, they caught us by surprise.”
“Barghasts?” Brian asked.
“Daemons. Two-headed cats, dogs, I’m not sure which exactly. It doesn’t really matter in the end.”
“There were two-headed catdogs in battle?” Brian asked incredulously. It was entirely possible he wasn’t even there; it was difficult to tell with Brian sometimes. “That’s amazing! We should raise a toa-”
“No more toasts, Brian. I’m done. We’re going to get the men back to the ship, and we’re going home. Then I’ll be standing down as General of the Dragon Knights.”
“You… you can’t,” Brian stammered. A horde of Daemons hadn’t seem to phase him, but this news did. “You’re our general. We… we need you.”
“These young men need a leader who can keep them alive. They don’t need me.”
“Then…” Brian began.
“I’ll no longer need a squire,” Luther confirmed. “You’ll be free to go.”
“But…” Brian began
And it was then that things got suddenly strange.
Luther heard a sharp “Eeeeep!” in his left ear. With reflexes belying his age, he spun around and saw a small Daemon hovering less than an arm’s length from his head. One hand shot out, catching it before it could dodge; the other hand grabbed it swiftly by the head and twisted, snapping its neck. With a grunt of disgust, Luther threw its limp body to the ground.
As he did so, he noticed a small rolled-up note the creature had been carrying, and bent down to retrieve it. Before he could read it, though, he was interrupted again.
“Luther!” a strangely accented female voice called. What in Anu’s name are you doing here in the ruins? With an army?”
Luther squinted into the fading light. A Wargare was approaching. Where Brian had seemingly stumbled over the bodies, she was walking lightly around them. He recognized her immediately - an assassin he’d briefly traveled with some years back in Leonis, though he didn’t know she was an assassin at the time. Luther didn’t like murderers-for-hire. She’d let the Emperor live though, in the coup. But she was still an assassin.
“Amira?” Luther asked, frowning, though it wasn’t really a question. “I might ask what you’re doing here without an army?”
“Following the lights,” she replied. “And you never answered my question.”
“Ahhh,” Luther took a breath, sarcasm rising. “We’re just closing a portal to some abyssal dimension that’s bleeding Daemons into the world like blood from a torn femoral artery.”
“Very graphic,” Amira replied, looking around at all the wounded. “And how’s that working out for you?”
“How does it look?” Luther gave her an icy glare.
“Like you need a hand,” she replied.
“I couldn’t afford you.”
“With all that money from the crown behind you?” Amira grinned. “You could afford ten of me.”
“I’m retired,” he said.
“Since when are you retired?” she asked
“Since three minutes ago,” Luther sighed. “We’re going home. And if you’re smart, you’ll be somewhere else as soon as you can too.”
There was a brief pause.
“Wait a moment,” Amira said. “That note in your hand. Where did you get it?”
“What does it matter,” Luther shot back, growing tired of the conversation. “I found it.”
“On a Daemon, by any chance? Small? Slightly annoying? Fragile? Went ‘Eeeep’?”
Luther looked at her, suspiciously.
“What does it say?” Amira asked. “Just the title.”
Luther read it. “To the Dragon Who Was.” He frowned.
Amira smiled, and brought her hand to her chin, thinking.
Well,” she said to herself. “Didn’t this just get interesting.”