The Longest Night
Do not fear, fear gives your power away. Take your power back.
((Notes for ease of use: Rolland = Father, Aelyse = Mother, Godric = First Son, Eduuin = Second, Daniel = Niklaos = 3rd son, Aevina = Daughter (Fourth sibling), Bertram = youngest son, only 11ish.))
“You truly have no concept whatsoever of decorum,” Daniel hissed as he shuffled down the hallway of Castle deWynter.
The laughter that echoed down the halls very rapidly proved Daniel’s point for him. “Brother, decorum is useless, where has decorum gotten you in the past?”
Jerking his head to the side, Daniel scowled at his elder, “Eduuin, just because I have not had as much drink and prostitutes as you have does not mean that I am failing at life or my path in it!”
Between laughs, Eduuin responded, “You didn’t have to come,dear Brother.”
“Indeed, and I am, in fact, at this very moment, wondering why I di—”
As they rounded the corner, both men halted in their tracks as the sinewy but muscular form of their Eldest brother stood there, his face set hard. The two younger brothers seemed to be shocked, and their brother took advantage of that moment and backhanded Eduuin to the point his lip split. “You… are a waste of life, you little ingrate. If you didn’t clean up so well and put on such a good show for the guests, I would hate you as much as I hate Daniel,” he fairly spat the word as he finished his sentence.
As Eduuin cried out from the floor, Daniel sighed, “Godric —” and as he spoke his brother’s name, that hand came down again, this time on his own face.
Godric snarled, “You both waste Father’s valuable coin and time, you with your debauchery, and you with your pathetic undying devotion to the Church. Father trained us to be —”
Daniel snarled, “FATHER IS AN ADDLED WASTE OF A MAN LOST IN HIS OWN DELUSION, you disgusting, sycophantic toad.” This time, he bore the slap better, having known he deserved and expected it. A bit of blood flowed from Daniel’s mouth now, and he lashed out with his own fist, but Godric was stronger, faster. He avoided Daniel’s fist and punched him beneath his ribs, sucking the very air from him. Another knee from Godric and Daniel went down,
Grabbing his brother’s hair, Godric hissed, “I have told you in the past, hold thy tongue with regards to your illusions about father, lest it be cut from your filthy head. Monks can still pray with a vow of silence, can they not?” he chuckled as he punched Daniel’s face once more and he went down.
It appeared Eduuin had learned the value of holding his tongue, as he lay crumpled on the floor from Godric’s first shot, and said nothing to the Eldest as Godric swept from the room and descended the staircase to the castle keep.
Eduuin crawled over to Daniel and carefully checked him for serious wounds. “Why do you insist on taunting him every time? Do you only drink with me to incite Godric?”
From the floor, Daniel croaked, “I drink with you to take my mind away from this hellhole. I drink with you to forget, though I never do. I drink with you to also keep an eye out that you control your rampant sinning. And… … … to incite Godric,” he said with a slight chuckle.
“Insanity, thy name be Daniel,” Eduuin said as he gingerly helped his brother to his feet.
- * *
As the sun rose the following morning, headache still ringing through his temples, he suddenly felt a heavy load upon his chest and stomach and yelled out in surprise.
Above him, her light-ginger hair framing her young face, his sister sat on his chest, just as she had when she was merely two – it’s just now, with three bruised ribs, it hurt considerably more.
“O God get thee off, Aevina Aeveril deWynter, I am weak.” he said as he tried in vain to shove her. Small in build though she was, she was tough, and hard to move. She laughed as her ridiculously long hair formed a curtain around his view and she tried tickling his ribs – which actually made him scream.
She winced and pulled back slightly, “Oh… Brother, did Godric beat you again?” she asked – the slight smile on her features belying her ‘intent’ to check on his status.
Rolling his eyes, Daniel hissed, “You surely know how to make a man feel as weak and helpless as a —”
She quickly pressed down on two of his ribs with her palm and made him wince, “As a what? A girl, brother?”
A wailing moan from Daniel then. “N…o .. I … was going… to say… still… a boy… Please cease…”
She let up then and crawled off the bed, chuckling a little, “You can take it brother, this is hardly the most-bruised your poor chest has ever been. I remember your coming-of-age party, I truly thought Godric was going to kill you for losing your virginity until Father stopped him.”
At this, Daniel, halfway sat up, hung his head in shame and shook it slightly. “Never should have done that,” he trailed off.
Rolling her eyes, she chuckled, “One change in your Faith and already you revile past sexual deeds. You’ve grown stuffy and cold in the winter of your sixteenth year,” she sighed. “OH! I almost forgot, I did come in here for a reason besides torturing the only good older brother,” she said with a rakish grin. “You must get dressed, the guest is here!”
Daniel’s eyebrow arched in confusion, “The Noble? What was his name? Longboatswain? Longbowshen?”
Rolling her eyes, she tugged at Daniel’s wrist but couldn’t move him, “The ArchDuke of Aldwyn – Latham Leodhir – remember?”
Waving a hand dismissively, Daniel tried to slide back under the covers, “What do I care for more Dukes or Princes or any number of sycophants kissing at the demented derrieres of Father and Godric? Besides, his caravan does not arrive until nightfall, he sent his manservant ahead.”
Aevina raised a finger, “That may be, dear Brother, but when we were helping them find their place in the castle, Duke Leodhir’s servants said he’d requested to meet you personally! He said he’d heard of your charities with the Church! This could be the big chance you’ve been waiting for to escape!”
Daniel pulled down the sheet on his bed and stared at her in confounded disbelief. “Really.”
She nodded her ginger head vigorously.
“Fine – out, young wastrel, I must accomplish my chores before breaking fast.”
Nodding, she turned to leave, then turned back, “I am NOT a Wastrel,” she yelled out as she then strode out the door so he couldn’t chuck his books at her.
“I’m surprised you know what it means,” he muttered.
“I HEARD THAT!” came the call from down the hall. “IT MEANS NEGLECTED CHILD! DON’T NEGLECT ME, OR A WASTREL I’LL BECOME!”
- * *
That evening, as the sun began to descend, Daniel sat in the living area waiting for the arrival of the Duke, along with his two elder brothers Godric and Eduuin. Everyone was in their finest, even Daniel for once.
Eduuin was the first to speak, as always, having the least to genuinely say. “Ah, I see as usual, Aevina is late.” He took a sip from his wine.
Godric snorted, “To say nothing of this supposed Duke. What kind of a Duke arrives at evening?”
In that moment, their parents made their arrival known. As usual, their father was hobbling somewhat, barely able to walk properly, and his much-younger wife escorted him to his chair.
The old man shooed his wife away, which she didn’t seem to take personally, perhaps due more to custom than actual feeling on the matter. As she sat in the opposite chair, both parents faced their children. The old man spoke first, “Where are the others? They should be here now,” he said in a dark tone.
Godric, ever the doting son, said quietly, “I do not know, Father, but I will hunt them dow—”
A young voice then penetrated the calm room. Young Bertram had arrived in his finest, and his teen voice cracked slightly as he spoke, “That shan’t be necessary, Sir, we are here.”
A few moments behind him came Aevina in a new velvet dress she’d purchased with an unheard-of plunging neckline. Daniel sighed inwardly – Aevina could not stand attending any social function unless she riled Father or Godric.
Their father’s nostrils flared, and even his wife had the good sense to look shocked by such a form-fitting dress. “Aelyse,” the old man began by addressing his wife instead, “Surely mine eyes decieve me, and I do not see my young daughter dressed as a harlot in my own mansion?”Aelyse was clearly fighting off a very, very slight smile, but her tone came out deadly serious. “Young lady, you are dressed inappropriately and you know Rolland has a heart condition!”
The ginger’s eyebrows seemed to raise up in genuine confusion and bewilderment – it was a lie, and everyone here knew it. “Milord DeWynter, I had no idea this was inappropos, I shall take it off immediately,” she said, undoing two of the threads holding together the corset before Daniel was at her side seizing her wrists.
“Aevina!” he hissed under his breath. She simply cocked her head to the side.
“Father says it’s inappropria—”
“YOU KNOW WHAT I MEANT, YOU HARLOT!!” said the old man as he very deliberately interrupted her and rose to his feet shakily. “The Duke is a man of learned education and great charity, and you shame me by coming here attired in such a way, and you DO IT DELIBERATELY! Godric!”
Godric’s head snapped up to look at his Father.
Rolland growled, “You KNOW what to do. And Daniel, you shall hold her wrists just so, or Godric’s whip will lash you twice as much. And I do believe he enjoys cleaving your flesh from your bone far more than hers.”
Godric was already happily obeying, as Daniel’s jaw dropped nearly to the floor. He was still holding Aevina’s wrists in front of her, and could not even process what was being said. “Father you —”
“Another word, child, and you’ll be lashed regardless!” came Rolland’s venomous words.
Daniel held fast, not sure what to do, even as his sister appeared resigned to just take the lashings in the living area.
Eduuin stared in shock at how quickly the night had degraded, “Father – father, mercy, please?”
Rolland smiled devilishly. “No mercy, child. You are filled with too much weakness.”
Eduuin then turned to the other chair near the fireplace, “Mother? Surely we cannot do this h—”
Rolland snarled and backhanded Eduuin almost as hard as Godric had last night – “You will not address Aelyse as if she has power in this house! And it most certainly WILL be done here, you insignificant drunkard, so you may each see the error of your ways.”
A hush fell over the room for several moments in tense fear of what was to come. Rolland deWynter sat shakily back down in his chair near the fire, seething with rage, as Eduuin held his split lip closed once again. He whispered “Yes, my Father.”
In the far corner, the youngest, Bertram, stood silent, still, watching. Always watching. He knew he wasn’t strong enough to stop any of this, especially Godric, the strongest, and he knew, so well, that holding his tongue and awaiting Father’s wrath was the only way to survive it.
Godric’s leather boots could be heard halfway down the hall as they tick-tocked against the stone floors until he entered from the south foyer. His whip unfurled and hit the floor just before the crack rang out throughout the house, and Aevina let out a shrill cry.
Startled by how brutally and quickly Godric had struck, Daniel dropped her wrists, and when he did so, his father yelled, “SEIZE HIM, EDUUIN, HE DID NOT FOLLOW HIS FATHER’S WORD!”
Another crack, another cry, and Eduuin bit his lip in terror, then nodded yet again, “Yes, my Father” was all he said as he quickly gripped Daniel’s wrists and held him fast as well.
- * *
It would now be another hour of getting ready before the ArchDuke’s arrival, as the Castle physician bound their wounds and they acquired new – and in Aevina’s case, less ‘coarse’ – clothing. Both of them trembled slightly as they stood in line – with Father at the head, in his chair, of course, because no ArchDuke would make a man so old feel challenged in his own house.
Duke Leodhir bowed his head fairly and evenly before everyone he met, his swarthy features appearing to take in the breadth of the scene as they were introduced.
However, when his eyes fell upon Daniel, he … stopped.
It was not enough to say the Duke paused, or breathed. Neither occurred. For one half a second, Daniel genuinely, and seriously, thought the Duke had just died of the failure of the heart, and just hadn’t noticed. He was a statue, for that half second, not seeming to have a pulse, not blinking, not making movements of any kind, not even breathing. And then the moment was over, and he shook Daniel’s hand.
The ArchDuke actually had the audacity to say, aloud, “Daniel deWynter, I have .. so looked forward to meeting you, at long last. Tales of your generosity with your time and coin to those in need as well as the Church has truly blessed us, and I know that this village owes you greatly.”
A dark hate settled over Rolland’s features, but he said nothing. Even Godric appeared shocked.
Waiting for an answer, Daniel just shakily replied, “Thank you, Sir.”
Turning to face their Father without an ounce of intimidation or fear, the ArchDuke said, “Look to your younger, here, DeWynter estate… for he shall do great things for God and Country. I know it.”
And he sounded as if he did.
- * *
Late that night, just as Daniel prepared to close his book and douse the flame near his bed, … the Duke was just there. No door had been opened, no sound made. Daniel let out a frightful cry for about a half second before a very, very cold hand fastened itself over his mouth.
The ArchDuke’s eyes seemed, in the candlelight, to reflect gold itself, then a very light Cerulean, before Daniel heard him whisper, “Calm.” And Daniel was calm.
Releasing Daniel’s mouth, Latham Leodhir seemed to regard Daniel for several moments before speaking again. “Not quite ‘ripe’ yet, but the seed has been planted nonetheless. Do not speak, just indicate yes or no. Do you want to leave this hollow existence behind?”
Daniel nodded somberly once.
Leaning closer, Latham cocked his head to the side as his eyes once again seemed to tint a kind of Cerulean, and he said, “Then you must be able to tell me, tomorrow night, what it is you truly want in this world. You have until nightfall, Daniel.”
Suddenly Daniel was in the room alone, the candle-flame flickering, the book at his side. He couldn’t remember exactly what had happened, only that he had the burden of a terrible decision to make.
- * *
After dinner the following evening, as the sun set in the sky amongst the mists of the North, candles flickered in the hallway. Boots rang out as they clacked towards the tower, climbing step after step, slowly ascending towards the main chambers of the Castle hall. A hand rapped at the door.
From within, the old man Rolland’s voice came crackling forth, “Yes, enter.”
Godric’s boots clacked further as he carried the candle into the room and placed it down. These were the primary offices where castle business took place, typically a dead area during the night, but a special exception had been made on this second day of the Archduke’s visit.
Within the chamber, Aelyse and Eduuin stood, Eduuin drinking (as always) from his position in a small chair, and Aelyse staring out of the tower window, looking over the village below and the sunset.
Godric’s strong voice broke the silence after closing the door, “This… man is going to be a problem, Father.”
Eduuin rolled his eyes.
Rolland deWynter snorted, “He already is. For two days, every proposal I’ve made towards the Hegemony he represents has been negotiated down, down DOWN!” He slammed his fist into the chair as if he were not the aged man he was.
Suddenly, he was up. Walking. His eyes probing every shadow in the room, legs briskly walking, his decrepit, old man exterior washing away. Aelyse seemed to smile, but said nothing.
“Every crow the Duke sends flying south to them brings yet more word about another Land falling under the shadow of the Hegemony.”
Godric shook his head, “Father, you shouldn—”
Aelyse stood up sharply and faced her son down, saying nothing, but her eyes warning him not to go down that path.
Rolland chuckled darkly, “Shouldn’t walk around, expend my energy? The sickness has me, my first childe, the sickness has me and I must take my lucidity wherever and whenever I must. I am the one who fought for the freedom and power of these lands, these people. And yet never, ever was I ackowledged, not even appointed …” Rolland seemed to be crushed for a moment before he snapped at himself in rage, “I KNOW MY OWN HISTORY.” He growled dangerously as he stared in the mirror, some kind of internal battle going on between him and his illness. “No Royalty, barely any money, just this run-down castle and Godric, my one true heir.”
Eduuin’s expression soured, but he did nothing, said nothing.
Glancing off to the left in the mirror, Rolland smirked. “You object to my words, young one? Eighteen years walking the earth to my fifty, and yet Eduuin still thinks he knows everything” Rolland said to Godric as he spread his hands wide. “I could almost be proud of the little brat if he had any SEMBLANCE o—”
Suddenly a coughing fit wracked him, his entire body, as he gripped the back of the chair. Aelyse rushed to his side and held him, before he finally waved her off with a selfish roar. He hissed, “Mark my words, Eduuin of Wynter, you know nothing. But you will – won’t he Godric?”
Godric nodded slowly, then turned to glance at his brother. “Assuming he can climb out of his bottle long enough to take in my lessons,” he said with a snarl.
“Enough,” Rolland spat. “You are both shadows of the man I once was, and still they took everything from me. All I have left is a drafty ancient castle in the North, tons of money, and no power. And now the Hegemony comes to claim all the rest??” He snarled. “And what in the Hells the Hegemony’s toad want with Daniel? That boy has all the knowledge, wisdom and lordship wherewithal of a nectarine.”
Godric appeared puzzled as he stared to the side. “I must admit failure again in that regard. Nothing seems to connect them, and the Duke seems so focussed on Charity, yet in every negotiation he takes more and more for himself and leaves none. He seems Hell-bent on making Daniel into the perfect Christian whilst he himself espouses no value to it.”
Aelyse snorted, “He’s a former man of the cloth, they are hypocrisy.”
Rolland chuckled at that, then coughed, wheezed again. “I knew there was a reason I took you as a wife, young one,” he said as he patted her head. “Now hush.” He turned back to his sons. “Find out what that man wants with Daniel, and take it from him – or I will.” His eyes sparked dangerously in the candle-light, and with a sudden surge forward, the old man stared his son down, “And if I have to take it, you are fully aware of what will be done to you.” He looked over at Eduuin, “Both of you. Find the truth. Take it from him.”
Eduuin put the glass down with a trembling hand, and Godric just nodded once, and both boys fled the room.
- * *
In another wing of the castle, Daniel sat in the dark, knowing, fearing that the Duke would come again this night. All throughout the day, lunch and dinner had been tense, with closed-door negotiations going on between his father and the Hegemony. Daniel did not even know what they were, but he knew that Duke Leodhir was pushing Father’s last nerve, and the idea also terrified – and yet excited him.
Suddenly, two slightly-glowing eyes were before him, and he started in his bed!
The shadowy figure of the Duke held a finger to his lips. “Shhhh. Tell me, young one, you have had one day to consider my words. But before I ask you the question, allow me to ask you a different, perhaps … less risky one. What drove you to the Church to the point that you are preparing to take the Vows?”
The sixteen year old Daniel once again jumped in his bed – He’d told NOBODY about that! Godric would have his HEAD if he knew, family money potentially going to the church, loss of another heir? It would drive the family into a rage. He mouthed, “H-how…”
“How did I know?” came the Duke’s whisper. “You can hide nothing from me. You are about to turn seventeen, and you wish to take the vows and serve the Lord. I am curious why…”
Considering it for several seconds, ultimately the boy’s response came as a whisper, “I believe in Christ.” He appeared to consider it longer, then said, “But I also do not trust Man. If the Church can take and take from the common man, then they have the power, in both speaking to God, and taking from Man. I want that power.”
A sinister smile came in the dark. “Daniel, what… do you… want?”
Daniel deWynter felt a chill over his spine, as if the question itself held infinite promise and infinite terror. “Freedom…”
The man watched him for a few moments, then hissed, “Freedom from what?”
Daniel considered the question carefully, sensing his future depended upon it. “From all who would control me, or stand in my way. I want the power necessary to stop them, the money necessary to no longer worry, and the life I choose to live.”
The smile grew wider. “Then you must start with knowledge, young one. Truth. Go now to the Library of the castle, go to the third shelf, and pull out the book ‘History of Aelthyr’. Only when you know the truth can you be free.”
It was a matter of minutes before Daniel was there, pulling the book and opening it, the ancient binding creaking, dust settling off the pages.
- * *
In the later hours of that same evening, Godric stood in the foyer area before the ‘guest’ room, candle flickering. He could have sworn he saw a golden glint in someone’s eye before Latham walked into the room.
The man simply stared at Godric, waiting in silence.
“I must know, Sir Leodhir – What is it you truly seek from us? You come, you bargain, you destroy my Father piece by piece, and yet you—”
“SILENCE, you mewling quim.” came the deep rumblings of the voice of a man who had had enough. “I do not address toadies nor lickspittles to true powers. If your Father wants to know, then allow him to have the —”
“Balls to face you?” Came Rolland’s voice from the back room. Not appearing old, not appearing decrepit, the man simply walked in and stared.
“Ah. The puppetmaster.” Glancing to Godric, Latham smirked, “Well, go on home, puppet.” Latham turned back to Rolland, “Tug the strings.”
Even as Godric appeared incensed, Rolland saved his hand, dismissing the boy.
“What is it you want, then?” said the old man.
Latham smiled broadly, “I say this in all honesty, Rolland, you could not possibly wrap your mind around what I want. But instead, I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. You can even try to stop me.”
He walked up to Rolland and his eyes flared golden, then light blue again as he seized hold of the man’s mind. Rolland’s eyes froze in place in terror… “I am going to show Daniel the truth of you, of what you really are, and what you did. And he is going to raise his fists in anger, and you will try desperately to end him, but you’ll die. Two nights hence. All your strength, all the power you so treasured, you know that fear that keeps you up at night? The fear that chills your spine even when Aelyse holds you closely? That fear that you are nothing, after all that you have been through, that your power amounts to nothing?” He leaned in close to Rolland. “It does. And the best of it is, Rolland, that I do not bring your End – your Son does.”
Rolland jerked, suddenly wanting very much to punch – to destroy – this ArchDuke, but he was in the room alone, in the dark. Afraid. He suddenly saw his image light up in the mirror, his face pale from the fear, lit for a fraction of a second of lightning, followed by the distant roar of thunder.
- * *
The next morning, Daniel awoke to a horrendous clatter. Thunder rang outside, lightning, rain, but worse than that, all the guards and even some of the peasants were searching every room, frantically.
Walking to his door, Daniel walked the hall to Bertram, the youngest’s room. Bertram glanced up from staring at the storm outside, and tucked his knees beneath his chin. Daniel looked at his little brother. “What is going on?”
Bertram shuddered, “The ArchDuke and all his belongings and men are gone. Gone like they were never here. Father is beginning to wonder if he imagined it. It all falls to pieces, Brother.”
His visage darkening, Daniel curled up his lip and growled at nothing. He went to Bertram’s closet and pulled out his travel sack. “Pack your things now – only what you need. Flee this place. Now. Before dark.”
Bertram curled up in fear, and the door opened. Aevina walked in, her breeches and shirt a hair too tight as always. “What is going on — Daniel? What…”
Daniel whirled on her, “You too. The castle is no longer safe. The ArchDuke has vanished, and Father thinks it was his disease. It’s all going to come undone, tonight.” He couldn’t explain how he knew it, but he knew it. He grabbed her shoulders and squeezed hard, “Get out of here. Pack a bag, only what you need, and insist that Bertram come along. Even if it’s only for a week, go to Cousin Alaric’s. Do not return here for at least a week, do you understand me?”
Aevina trembled, for Daniel had never, ever treated her like this before. “Y-yes. Yes. It’s … over…” she whispered. “Bertram, pack your things.” He appeared to be about to protest, but she held up her finger and shushed him. “Pack. Now. Not another word.”
As quickly as her stern look came, it fell away, and she then leaned up to kiss Daniel on the cheek. “You should come too.”
Daniel shook his head, “Something else is happening, something I need to understand. Listen to me – do not return here,” he whispered again, insistent. “If I can, I will find you instead. Now go.”
- * *
One hour later, rain still cascading down, Daniel rounded one of the corners in the castle and encountered the Archduke. “Wh— They’re —”
Leodhir quickly clamped Daniel’s mouth shut, looking around furtively. He whispered, “Thirty minutes, in the stables. Tell my man that your time has come, and he will escort you out – you can take your vows, do anything you wish, from within the Hegemony’s demense. Until then, do not mention me, just go.”
As the skies upended themselves and thunder tore through, Daniel furtively walked to the stables and looked for Latham’s man. No one was there, The horses were mad with fear, as it seemed day had become night, and all was chaos.
Someone stepped from the shadows, and Daniel stood at the caution. The man was robed, hooded, unseeable. Daniel hesitated.
A blade slid from its home in the robes of the other man, and he removed his hood.
Daniel startled, “Eduuin? What?”
“Walk, Daniel. If you were going to ally with the Stranger, you should have been more careful.”
Shouting over the rain, Eduuin yelled, “THAT is not the ArchDuke. We got word today from the fastest Crows, the ArchDuke is safe in his castle, and the Hegemony sent a Death lord. WALK!”
- * *
“You’ve never been up here, have you child?” Came Rolland’s cry over the terrible storm surrounding them. He held his arms out wide, Aelyse next to him wearing robes to avoid the rain, Godric there looking smug as usual, on Rolland’s left, as Eduuin took his place to the right.
Daniel seemed disinclined to reply, so Rolland continued, “When this Castle was the primary Keep for several fiefdoms, and we held all executions here when I was but a child! This place .. used to hold death incarnate!” Thunder clapped on cue. “Did you think I was merely going to let you and your Death lord kill me?”
“I do not have ANY idea what you’re on about, Rolland! I have no plan to —”
“OH but you DO!” Rolland said, raising up his hand. “After extensive searching, we finally found a secret panel hidden in YOUR room, my child, and it holds the Truth – sealed by the Hegemony seal itself, you —”
“THE TRUTH!?!?!” Daniel cried at the top of his lungs, his voice ringing across the battlements. “The TRUTH!? What is it you say to Eduuin every night at dinner!? YOU KNOW NOTHING, YOU PATHETIC IMMATERIAL MEANINGLESS EXCUSE FOR MAN.”
Rolland’s eyes darkened, almost visibly, in rage. Thunder and lightning rang out as the rains poured over them both, and he uttered one word, in terrible rage, “What??”
“The Book in the Library, third shelf near the back. The History of Aeythyr!? When I first heard the name I knew it could not be real, for Aethyr is the old word for the Ethereal, and the Ethereal has no history!”
Godric and Eduuin looked at each other, and then at Rolland, who quaked with anger but said nothing.
Daniel snorted, “He cannot even bring himself to admit it. Do you know that I did have a secret, before this travesty? It is not the secret YOU held from me, it is nothing compared to that, but it is mine. I was about to take my Vows to the Preistdom! I completed all the tests, and I was ready to join the Lord and ignore you, until I read that book!”
Rolland raised his head as if in defiance, but Daniel continued, "Godric, Eduuin – you are not his legitimate heirs. I am. I am the fruit of his loins, you were both born out of wedlock to mother, and he was so terrified that he was sterile, so tiny of manhood – " he shot a glance to Aelyse who turned her head shamefully, “He forged your birthpapers.”
Rolland cocked his head to the side for a moment and then looked at the two boys behind him.
“I’ll save you the trouble of explaining further, you idiot. Yes. I did. And the ONLY record of you not being my boys, is down there in that book.” He narrowed his eyes. “The only one. And he has not had time to make copies yet. Now – who would you follow to leadership of this Castle?! Me? Or the would be pious PRIE—”
Suddenly,lightning struck and Daniel impacted Rolland hard, tackling him to the ground and drawing forth his dagger. “YOU WILL NOT USE THE TRUTH TO WIN, YOU —” But in mid-rant, Godric and Eduuin both attacked, grabbing Daniel off their father. Rolland rose to his feet and PUNCHED his third – no, first – son again and again, doubling him over in pain until his back was against the battlement wall and he could pummel the boy more freely.
Godric and Eduuin watched as their father lost his mind, and screamed at the top of his lungs. “MY TRUTH IS THE ONLY TRUTH THAT MATTERS! SCREW YOUR ASSASSIN, FUCK YOUR BLOOD RIGHT, I MADE YOU AND I WILL DESTROY YOU!”
All at once, it seemed as if all the fury, the confusion, the dementia and pain poured out of their father into Daniel as he pummeled fist to bone, and just as they thought Daniel could not possibly take any more, Rolland landed a roundhouse punch that spun Daniel on one foot, and over the edge of the battlement, sending him plunging two or more stories as Rolland released a mangled cry from the heavens as if he was finally, finally released of a burden.
Eduuin blinked twice, while Godwin just bowed his head in acceptance. "You… "
Rolland’s hateful glare fell on Eduuin’s visage next. The boy shut his mouth in terror. “NO more disobedience. No more!!! No one will join the thrice-damned priesthood and ruin me. The assassin is dead, and gone, clean up this Castle and let’s make ready for a strike back into the Hegemony.”
Rolland walked to the stairwell down, with Godric on his heels, as Eduuin just looked down. The darkness wrought by the thunderstorm left virtually no visibility, and he could not see anything remaining of Daniel.
He quickly turned and headed for the stairs.
- * *
Amidst the pouring rain outside, the sun had faded to a dim memory. The moat quaked and quivered. From within the blackened ichor, a hand slicked with wet pulled forth out of the muck, a dagger still in hand. Trembling from cold, pain, and hate, Daniel deWynter pulled himself free of the deWynter sludge below. He could feel his ribs cracked, his blood pouring freely from two wounds, his right arm was hanging useless by his side and he felt something very… strange in his head, almost a wetness. He was certain on the way down his body – he thought, his shoulder, had slamnmed into the wall twice, effectively destroying his arm but slowing his fall, but that was all he remembered. The plunge to the ichor below, he did not remember, just cold, and pain.
And still, filled with loathing and shaking from it, he crawled his way to the grassy shore to die not of drowning, but of loss of precious vitae.
When lightning struck again, he saw something – some shadow. He was beginning to lose consciousness, but even before he did, he saw the figure bend down. “You are almost ripe enough. But first, you must Become.” he said as he seemed to bite into his own wrist, and forced it down Daniel’s throat. “This will stop you from dying before it’s too late. You want Freedom?” He asked, chuckling darkly. “TAKE your freedom. And then, you will Become.”
- * *
The lord of the Castle Rolland deWynter, his wife Aelyse, Godric, and Eduuin all entered the hall to partake in a late feast. "You listen to me, you idiotic children, I’ve destroyed that document, you are my sons. But I want Bertram and Aevina found, do you … "
He paused, because the feast hall was set, but only one candle stood lit, dead center of the table. None of the torches, the chandelier, nothing else. His eyes flashed with fear – was the Archduke – the assassin still here? What had gone on? “Guard! Servant! What is going on here?”
At the far end of the table a flint lit with a spark, and one other chandle shone out in the night.
Dressed in the finest priestly vestments of white, red, and black that Latham (who now wished to be addressed as Lameth) could find, Daniel deWynter sat, in perfect health, a bastard sword crossed over his lap, legs crossed casually as he lit the candle. “Your guards and servants were all paid nearly an even share of a sixth of your treasury – which by the way, has been stolen quite efficiently by my new friend – to take the night off.” He smiled with deadly intent. “Lameth – your supposed Assassin, who is not, by the way, has informed me that I am about to Become something new. But first… some unfinished business.”
Standing up slowly, readied the bastard sword and also slid a familiar dagger from the belt of his vestments.
Godric immediately took up position between Rolland and Daniel, “You’ve never beaten me in a fight, and you never —”
What happened next happened so fast that Rolland barely had time to register what happened mentally. Daniel swept forward faster than Rolland’s eyes could track – or Godric’s – knocking over both candles in the process as the dining table lit aflame – and grabbed Godric’s sword arm, twisting it behind him with raw strength and breaking bone, kicking him to the floor then kicking him again.
With a wicked grin, Daniel turned his attention to Rolland as lightning crashed outside.
“Son – Daniel, we can discuss this…”
A tsk sound came from the teen. "Not Daniel.
Call me Niklaos."