T is coming on Friday!
All rights reserved; copyright © C. A. Szarek. The text within may not be reproduced in whole or in part or distributed in any form whatsoever OR SOLD without first obtaining permission from the author.“Niall?” Leargan’s childhood friend and fellow knight looked up from the piece he was whittling. He was good at his hobby and free with his creations as gifts. Leargan had several startlingly authentic looking statutes of people and animals.“Leargan. Fine evening.” Niall gestured to the log he was sitting on close the fire in the main courtyard of Castle Rowan.“It is indeed. Do you have a moment?”“Of course.” Niall met his eyes and Leargan smiled. He was making the right choice; there was no doubt in his mind.Niall was a turn older than his twenty-two, and had always been mature, even-tempered. He would make a fine compliment to Leargan’s new role as Captain of the Aldern personal guard, provided the other knight agreed.“I didn’t know you were on watch tonight,” Leargan remarked as he took a seat next to his friend.“I’m not, I just needed some air.” Niall’s mouth curved in a slight smile. Leargan suspected there was more to it than that, but he wouldn’t pry. If Niall wanted to talk, he would.“I spoke to the king tonight,” Leargan said. The other knight held his gaze. “I’ve been asked to captain Lady Ryhan’s—soon to be Lady Aldern—personal guard.”“Congratulations, Leargan.” Niall thrust his hand out. He had always been nothing but supportive.“Thank you.” He nodded and clasped his friend’s hand. They shook hard, exchanging warm smiles.“Who’ve you in mind for the guard? You’ll need…eleven?”“Ten, actually.”“Oh?”“Well, I was hoping that you would be my Second.” In the firelight, Niall’s blue eyes widened.“You want me?”“I could think of no other,” Leargan answered. Niall stared at him, the apple of his throat bobbing.“I’m honored.” His tone was thick and Leargan clasped his forearm and squeezed. “Thank you,” he added with a nod.“You’ll do it, then?”“Aye.”Leargan grinned, weight lifting off his shoulders a bit. With Niall by his side, the responsibility of selecting the proper knights to make up his command would be easier.“Greenwald…permanently,” Niall remarked.“Aye. Is that a concern for you?”“No. I’ve nothing holding me here.” His tone had an edge and Leargan cocked an eyebrow. There was a time he and Niall had told each other everything. Still, he didn’t want to push his friend.Niall cleared his throat, confirming he didn’t want to talk even if something was troubling him. His fellow knight flashed a smile. It was forced, but Leargan let it go.“Have you decided on anyone else?” Niall asked.“Alasdair comes to mind.” Niall laughed, shaking his head. Leargan grinned. “Bad choice?”“Not at all. I’m sure the rogue wouldn’t let you leave Terraquist without him.”Leargan chuckled. “Probably not.” Childhood adventures flitted through his mind and from the wistful look on Niall’s face, his friend was feeling nostalgic, too.“The king has given me leave to choose, but will have approval of the final list,” he told Niall.“Understandable.”“Any suggestions?”“No one with a wife or family.” Niall’s eyes looked pained, but Leargan didn’t get a chance to respond. “Unless they don’t mind being uprooted.”Focusing on the task, he nodded. “I agree. That leaves us with the younger ones. Or…knights around our ages.”“Not so bad, as long as they are skilled.”“Roduch, Bowen, and Artan work well together,” Leargan said, cocking his head to the side. Niall’s dark hair shifted in the evening breeze, his expression thoughtful.“Artan is gruff, but a hell of a swordsman.”Scarred and abrupt to most, Leargan had always been fond of Artan. “I agree, but I have no idea if he’ll be interested. He’s leery around new people, and we’re talking about a whole Province.”“I’ll speak to him, if you wish.”Leargan nodded. “Thank you, I’ll take you up on that. Make sure he knows how much of an asset I think he’ll be.” One corner of Niall’s mouth lifted.“I will.”They continued to decide, putting the impressive list together rather quickly. Men they’d trained with, fought beside, and in several cases, grown up with. Leargan was pleased. Hopefully all their selections would be willing. He wasn’t concerned about King Nathal replacing any of his choices. They were all strong, well liked, honorable knights.“It’s going to be difficult. A long road ahead,” Leargan said. “Varthan devastated Greenwald, down to the last castle man-at-arms, not to mention every Knight of Greenwald. There’s no one left…” He sighed.Leargan was looking forward to his first command, but so many had had to die for it. No one was greater effected than the new Duchess of Greenwald, Lady Cera, though. She’d lost her whole family to the bastard. Blessed Spirit rest their souls and let Varthan rot in hell.There was a gleam in Niall’s blue eyes when their gazes met. “I’ve always been rather fond of challenges.”Leargan chuckled. He’d chosen right after all.