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This is the chapter seven in the story Fires from the Dark.

Chapter

Athens, Greece, 268 A.D. Shortly after start of Roman attack.


“I said to hurry! Take any and all objects you can gather! Construct a barrier.” shouted Acelin Ricci, leader of the 5th regiment of the Athenian knights, the highest of all regiments. He was directing a group of soldiers to barricade the entrance to the castle. He knew that, judging by the distance from the treeline to the castle door, it would take the Romans several minutes to haul such a colossal weapon as the battering-ram they were attempting to break through their defenses with.


Almiro and Romana bustled back from the king's chambers after relaying the information of the enemy being in possession of the battering-ram.


“Are you sure your uncle made the correct choice in trying to shield the interior? Surely, they will break though. You saw the size of the weapon they were hauling. And summing up that and the fact that it was set ablaze...this won't end positively.” Romana said, increasing the length of her strides to keep up with her husband.


“I doubt my uncle in every way, my dear, I do. I would opt to flee the kingdom from an alternative passageway into the mountainside. But he is king and his word is law. We must follow or unfortunate consequences may follow, regardless of my relations to him.” Almiro replied as the two came to a stop to stand aside Ricci.


“Sir Ricci.” Almiro said, giving the regiment leader a formal Athenian salute. “I take it the barricade is coming along well?"


Ricci barked another order at his men, and answered Almiro. “It is indeed. I challenge those damned Romans to break through.” he said with a hardy laugh. “We've gathered items of large from three levels of the castle! It is impossible that they breach our defenses.”


“Do not be so sure of yourself, Acelin.” Almiro chided, looking into the man's eyes. “You have not seen the size of the weapon they wield. They hold the power to smash through the walls with the utmost of ease.”


Ricci threw him a menacing glare. “Remember you place, squire.” Almiro shrank back slightly and looked to the floor. Ricci continued, “Moreover, you are underestimating our chances. The Roman squadrons have had to struggle with four of Athenia's five regiments, and so have been weakened, regardless of how easily they swept them all aside. Now, add my regiment, the highest in the kingdom, untouched by the the battle thus far. If they do manage to somehow break through, which I find highly improbable seeing as how we have archers positioned above the gates, my regiment will strike and eliminate the rest of them.”


“I see...” Almiro said, thinking through Ricci's plans. Although he could find many fault points, such as the fact that the Athenian forces were severely outnumbered to begin with, and that Romans were simply more enhanced militarily than the Athenians, he kept quiet, not wanting to further complicate things.


“The best of luck. To you all.” he said to Acelin and his men that were within earshot. He gave the salute once more and left the area of construction. He beckoned Romana to follow; while Acelin and Almiro were discussing battle plans, she was making an attempt at helping with the construction of the barricade. With a word or two to a passerby soldier, she passed a fair-sized statue of Zeus to him and left to catch up to her husband.


“What was General Ricci's prediction of the barricade?” Romana inquired.


Almiro was quick to reply once they were out of Ricci's earshot. “The damn fool thinks it will hold because of archers positioned on the exterior walls. Feh. Even if the archers succeeded in killing off some of the men wielding the battering-ram before they made contact with the gates too many times...just one or two hits would destroy the gates and the entire barrier. The thing is massive – it takes at least thirty men to move it, judging by the look I got of it.”


“Well, what are we going to do?” Romana said, concern creeping into her voice.


Almiro let out a sigh, partially of his weariness, partially of the disapproval he thought of what he was about to say. “King Moretti wishes us to remain in the castle – he is in full support of Ricci, and in complete disbelief at my suggestions to flee. You heard it with your own ears. You were there.” He and Romana paused to let a group of soldiers pass before rounding a corner. Turning down the hall, he continued. “I may not like it, but...I must obey the king – even if I did not fear for my own life, I owe it to him, anyway.”


“What do you mean? Why do you feel you must repay some deed he has done for you?” Romana asked again. They turned another corner.


“He rescued me from death, oh, about fourteen years or so ago. I had only been his squire for two or three years, and I was accompanying him on my first trip out of the city with my position in the government.


“We were on a trip to Rome. King Moretti and the then king of Rome were to sign a peace treaty to end this war. However, as it turned out, we learned that the benevolent, well-meaning king was assassinated and his son, the current king of Rome, had taken the throne. The son has always had a deep-seated hatred towards us – there have been numerous rumors of as to why, one of them being his mother had been killed by our soldiers – and wishes nothing but to clear us from the face of the Earth.


“Now, our intelligence scouts had gained knowledge of this, and reported back to King Moretti. However, they had been caught eavesdropping, apparently, and were followed back by a group of men, with orders to assassinate the king. Our entire fleet was wrecked, and several of the assassins had made their way to the king and I. I was attacked by one of them. But...the king had slain him, a dagger to his neck, before he could deal any damage. Afterward, he had given the dagger to me symbolizing our bond. And so, I have forever sworn my life to protecting his, until the day it do me in.”


Almiro's tale left Romana feeling uneasy. She knew not of any of this, and did not feel happy about Almiro's vow to his uncle.


The two finally came to a stop in front of two high doors. They were encrusted with emeralds, making inner borders for each. In the wood were etchings of several of the gods: Zeus, standing tall and mighty amongst the clouds, high up upon Mt. Olympus; Hades, lurking in the underworld; Hera, standing aside a figure that was in a spot so worn, it was beyond recognition


“Why are we here? This is a remedial chamber.” Romana asked.


“Exactly. A soldier was wounded during the beginning of the battle and managed to make his way back to the castle, and is in this room being treated. He claims to have gotten a glimpse of the enemy leader. As the king's assistant, I am to record all he has to tell.” Almiro explained, and pushed open the doors.


The room, unlike the well-appointed entrance, was worn with rough wall work. From the ceiling hung a single large candelabra, every stick of wax aflame. Against each of the four walls laid a row of five beds, all poorly cleansed. However, in only one bed, blanketed by a torn, rag of a sheet, lay a man. No other survivors had made it back to this sanctuary of healing.


Almiro swallowed and moved towards the silent man. As he moved closer, Almiro could see that a man this soldier was not, but a boy of...eighteen, perhaps nineteen?


“Excuse me, lad. I take it you are the one who I am told about glimpsing the enemy's master?” Almiro asked as he and Romana came to be beside his bed.


The boy slowly opened his eyes. They were terribly bloodshot. Almiro could see a definite end-in-sight for him. “I...am..” he spoke slowly, painfully. Almiro took note of how hard it was for him to speak. Broken ribs... he thought.


“Ahem, yes. I am Almiro, squire to the king.” he said with a bow. “I am here to collect any information you claim you have to give of the enemy.”


The boy turned his head away, thought a moment, then turned back towards the squire. “Yes...I have.” he struggled to say. Almiro knew that the boy would not last long. He saved him the pain of explaining everything, and merely went straight to the point.


“Who? Who is leading the attack?”


The boy breathed in, and out. Almiro was becoming impatient. If this boy died before he relayed any information, surely, the king would have his head.


The soldier blinked, trying to recapture the moment, in his mind, that he saw the horseback man decapitating his fellow knights. “He rides a white stallion...” he said, painfully. He started coughing. Spots of red appeared on his lips. A medic rushed over, but Almiro stopped her.


“Who, boy, who?” Almiro said.


The soldier's eyes grew wide with terror as he recalled the sight. “He...he wields...” More coughing, more blood. “He wields a...a battle ax...one of...of stone, not steel...” The coughing became more hash, almost hysteric. Blood leaked from the corners of his mouth.


“Who? Who did you see?!” Almiro said, clutching the ragged covers on the bed.


Without warning, the boy lunged forward and grabbed Almiro by the collar. His hands were bruised and stained by blood. “The stallion! Look for the white stallion!” he screamed.


With one last sporadic spurt of blood from his mouth, he fell back, his eyes open, staring into Almiro's. His heart beat it's last.


* *


“And nothing else?” King Moretti said, with a hint of disappointment in his voice.


“Yes, my lord. He said he had seen a man atop a white stallion horse, and in his hand was an ax of stone.” Almiro answered. He had left the remedial room and relayed the soldier's story to the king, leaving Romana to help the medic take care of the body of the boy.


King Moretti sighed. “Alright. I would wish for more information on the enemy, but, I suppose that will have to be enough. You are dismissed, squire.”


“Yes, lord.” Almiro said, bowing. “Shall I survey the progress of the barricade, lord?”


“Yes.” said King Moretti, raising his chin in a dignified fashion. “And report it to me. Now, squire, be off.”


“My lord.” said Almiro, bowing once more. He turned on his heels and left the royal chambers.


Outside the door, Romana was waiting.


“I thought I had told you to wait in the remedial chamber?” Almiro said to her, closing the doors to the King's room.


“I couldn't bare to stay...” Romana said, looking to the floor. She tried not to think of what took place just some twenty minutes ago.


Almiro grimaced and began to walk. “Very well. Come, my wife. I am to survey the progression of the barricade on the first floor.” He stopped, turned, and waved Romana to him.


The two started down a twirling staircase of stone, a quicker alternative to the winding, gradually descending hallways. The last word being of the unfortunate soldier, Almiro ventured to change the conversation.


“Well, then...surely, on your way up here, you must have taken a look at the barrier?” he asked.


“Oh, yes. It seemed it was coming along well. Although, I suppose we should see it for ourselves, once more.” she answered.


Alas, they never got the chance. As they stepped down the last step and continued down another hall, a group of knights bustled by, shouting.


“They are breaking through!” one of them yelled in Almiro and Romana's direction as they sprinted past down the halls. Almiro and Romana looked at each other in shock, and began a jog down the last staircase or so to the ground floor, to the castle gates.


* *


Almost tumbling down the last few stairs, Almiro and Romana came to the lobby to find many of the objects once placed in front of the main entrance thrown aside. Acelin Ricci was directing his men to pile objects that had been blown away back together with the others.


Almiro approached the regiment leader. “What is going on?” he inquired, wincing as a soldier was crushed by an avalanche of stone.


Ricci turned and barked, “Rebuild it! And build it with a shred of intelligence this time. Construct it so it does not topple on its own!” He turned back to Almiro. “Hmp. What else? They've struck the gate, fool!”


“What?! I thought you said that it would take them much longer than this to reach us?” Almiro exclaimed. Listening closely, he could here shouts from the Romans outside.


“I miscalculated.” he said with a scowl.


Almiro fought back a slight smile. Ricci never was one for plotting.


“Well, then, what do you plan to d-”


WHAM.


A terrible crash sounded at the gate. Half the soldiers piling the objects in front of it were either blown back or crushed to death by the falling barrier. Almiro, Romana and Ricci turned, simultaneously, in the direction of the sound. Romana, alarmed, stepped back. Almiro noticed a crack at the bottom of the gate.


“Get up!” Acelin shouted, yanking a soldier up off the floor. “Brace yourselves!”


“They're moving much faster than we anticipated, sir!” the soldier said. “It only took them-”


WHAM. Another bash.


“Waah!” The soldier fell to the ground, a couple of stone statues and a chair following.


Ricci mumbled a curse. “Get ready! Stand back, weapons poised!” he barked.


Almiro and Romana stepped back a little further. “Ricci, we have to get out of here.” Almiro said, trying to hide the fear in his voice.


WHAM.


“Prepare! Have your weapons positioned!” Acelin ordered. He placed his hand on the hilt of his sword.


“Acelin!” Almiro shouted. He didn't try to stifle his fear this time. “We must go! They are going to-”


WHAM.


The gate moaned. The crack Almiro had seen stretched across the gate, splitting into three separate, large rifts.


Almiro's face cleared of all expression. “Run.” he half-whispered, loud enough for Romana and Ricci to hear. “Run!


WHAM.


The gate heaved and gave way. Smoke filled the room, flammable objects set fire to by the blazing battering-ram. And at first, that was all that could be seen. But that didn't last for long, and Almiro could see why the Romans were quick to hit the castle: the entire enemy body was pushing behind the battering-ram, and now, they were pouring from behind and into the castle.


Almiro grabbed Romana by the forearm and ran. “Ricci! Come, come with us! Flee!” he screamed.


Ricci refused to listen. He drew his sword.


“Listen to me, you damned fool! You can't possibly overcome them!” Almiro tried his best to persuade the regiment leader.


Ricci gave a defiant cry and rushed headlong into the chaotic mess of swords, spears, and blood.


“No!” Almiro started towards the struggle, but was pulled back by Romana.


“Come on, Almiro! We must flee!” she begged, tugging as hard as she could. “Please!”


Almiro, with some difficulty, tore his eyes away from the ensuing battle, and fled up a hallway, to the King's chamber.


* *


“Ammon! Where are you?” Acelin yelled into the crowd. He spun around and impaled a Roman in the stomach. He dropped to the ground, blood flowing from his wound. Acelin picked up his spear and threw it across the crowd. It ripped through the air and met the fleshy neck of a Roman warrior.


“General Ricci!” a shout pierced the air. Acelin turned to to see an armored man thrusting his blade through the chest of a Roman soldier. The Roman screamed out in pain and made one last attempt to kill his attacker, but was abruptly knifed by a passerby. The armored man gave his comrade a nod of thanks, and rushed over to Ricci.


“General Ricci.” he said with a salute, catching his breath. “You called me, sir?”


“Yes, Ammon. Do you know of captain Boutrine's whereabouts?” Ricci asked.


Ammon took a moment to answer. “He was cut down, sir.” he said grimly. He turned and shouted to a fellow Athenian being crept upon by a Roman – too late.


“I see.” Ricci said, feeling slightly vulnerable. Captain Boutrine was one of four officers below Ricci. Aside form that, he was also a friend. “How many other captains have been slain?” he asked


“I am not sure, sir. However, I do think that – what was that?” Ammon said. A loud trumpet had sounded, and all commotion ceased immediately.


All who were not lying in pools of blood turned to see a horseback man ride into the scene. He was atop a white stallion, slowly trotting in, so casually, as if he had been an invite to a celebration. But as his horse came to a stop in front of a man, an Athenian soldier – a captain, and he lifted a mighty ax made of stone, it was clear he was not here for merry-making. The horseback man swung the ax; the captain's head quickly caved in under the weight of the weapon.


As abrupt as the captain's death, the soldiers, Roman and Athenian, burst into battle once more.


* *


Like it began, it ended: swift, bloody, and with no chance of resistance for the Athenians whatsoever. The entire Athenian force had been cut down. Save one.


Acelin Ricci hung his head low as the stallion-mounted man staggered off of his horse. His face was veiled, the only visible parts being his eyes. He tried to lessen the pain he felt in his wrists, bound together by a thick rope, but had little success. He was on his knees, his arms tied behind him. There was no escape for him.


The man strolled over and towered above the beaten captive. Ricci look up, into the eyes of his captor. Oddly enough, they were warm and welcoming.


“And what would your name be, sir?” the man said.


Ricci remained silent, and looked at the floor again.


“Tsk, tsk. It is ill mannered to act as you are to a guest at the royal grounds, is it not? Especially one as royal as myself.” said the man, motioning another to gather his weapon. “Now, what did you say your name was?”


Ricci looked up. “I am Acelin Ricci, leader of the 5th regiment of the royal knights of Athens.” he said in half pride, half defiance. Who was this prude to challenge him, to try to intimidate him?


The man bowed. “It is always nice to meet a man of such a high standard, especially one who turns out to be the sole survivor of struggle such as this.” He waved his arms over the piles of bodies that lay dead on the floor.


Ricci could take no more of this fool's arrogance. “Who are you to act so mighty? You say you are royalty? Hmp! I think not!”


The man looked down at his captive. His once benevolent eyes squinted and were overcome with anger. He balled his fist and brought it down over Ricci's head.


Acelin cried out in pain. His head lowered as he fought back tears.


“Hmp! Let that be your warning, prisoner. Unless, of course, you would like to end your time as a captive, that is.” An eerie smile crept over his face. “Yes, I am indeed royalty. I am the Prince Julian, heir to the throne of my state.”


Ricci snorted.


Julian, being handed his ax, swallowed his anger and refrained from braining the captain. He thought it best not to kill him just yet. “Let me ask you this,” he said. “Where, oh where, is your king, hm?“


Ricci continued with his silence, partially out of defiance. He knew that angering this man would surely lead to his end, but, what did it matter? He was sure to die here, regardless of how soon.


“I will ask you once more.” the prince said roughly. He grabbed Acelin by the chin and yanked his head up. “Where is your king?” he said through gritted teeth.


In a final act of defiance, Ricci spat in his face.


The prince pulled back. Wiping the saliva off his face, he turned to a man next to him.


“Kill him.” he said.


Acelin watched as the man pulled a long blade from his waist and slowly moved towards him.


He closed his eyes.


* *


The King's chamber door flew open.


“Your majesty!” Almiro shouted as he and Romana started up past the long dining table.


King Moretti lifted his head from a wooden idol he was praying to. “What is it, squire? You've interrupted my prayers!”


“The Romans have infiltrated the castle!” Romana exclaimed.


“What? That's absurd. It is impossible – the barricade will have held them.” he said, looking back down to his idol.


“She speaks the truth, my lord!” Almiro spoke up. The king lifted his head and rose an eyebrow. Almiro continued, “They have blown the barricade away and breached the castle walls! I saw the beginning of the battle, lord. And I'm almost sure they've overwhelmed our f-” Almiro was cut short by the sound of the chamber doors opening.


Almiro and Romana, by now not three meters from the king, turned to see a tall figure garbed in glinting armor walking in, followed by two knights, their swords drawn and poised.


”Now do you see?” Almiro said to his uncle. The king merely continued to keep his eyebrow raised as he looked over the slowly approaching man, strolling so leisurely across the chamber as if he owned the entire kingdom.


“And who might you be?” King Moretti said as the man came to a stop by the dining table.


He gave a respectful bow. “I am Prince Julian, son of the great king of Rome.”


Romana swallowed and looked at the king; he looked unimpressed.


“My humblest apologies, your majesty.” said Prince Julian. “My men seem to have created quite a mess of your downstairs.” A smile formed at the corners of his mouth.


The king's eyebrow dropped; Almiro clenched his fist.


“What have you done with my general?” the king demanded to know.


“Oh, yes, of course.” The prince made a hand motion; one of his guards left the room for a brief second, then returned with a small bamboo box. "I made sure to take special care of him...” he said, turning his head towards the guard with the box.


The guard unlatched a metal lock, opening the box. Out tumbled the head of Acelin Ricci.


Romana gasped and turned away. Almiro closed his eyes and clenched his fist harder.


“How dare you!” the king snapped. “Waltz in here, unannounced, in my presence, and bring me the head of my highest regiment leader?! I ought to hang you for this!”


“Don't bother, your majesty – you won't get the chance.” said the prince. He snapped his fingers; one of the two guards positioned at his side sprang to life and moved quickly towards the king.


Almiro had kept the dagger his uncle had given him for this sort of situation, and so drew it from his belt.


One of the guards rushed by him, towards the king. Keeping the knife out of sight from him until he was behind him, Almiro whipped around and jumped after the Roman. Closing his eyes, he thrust the dagger forward...


...And made contact. When Almiro opened his eyes, the Roman was struggling to remove the blade from his back. Unable to reach it, he tried to lunge for Almiro.


Romana watched with horror; the king merely watched with slight anticipation.


Almiro quickly pulled the dagger from the other man's back.


Muttering a curse, the guard made another lunge towards the squire, who simply held the knife out in front of him and closed his eyes, right before he was hit. The dagger was plunged deep into the guard's chest.


Opening his eyes once more, Almiro found the guard slumping to his knees. He yanked the dagger from his chest, and let the Roman fall over.


A slow clap came from Prince Julian. Almiro turned to see him strolling forward. “Very nice.” he said. “Although, I have to say your accuracy and posture were a little off. If not, you may have been able to have killed him with the first-”


“Quiet!” the king boomed. Every one: Almiro, Romana, Prince Julian and his one remaining guard all looked at the king. “You seem to enjoy the sound of your voice, prince.” he said, stretching his fingers on the arms of his throne. “You talk high and mighty, and yet I have seen you do nothing but see to the death of this man!” He gestured to the lifeless body of the guard on the floor.


The prince shrugged. “I leave the dirty work to those under me.” he said, and stepped closer. “Moreover, it is my father that has taken a vow to kill you. I have just been sent to carry this vow out, for my father has fallen ill, and the future looks bleak for him.” He drew his sword, and muttered a word to his remaining guard; he turned and left the room. “And so, before I take the throne, I shall fulfill my father's last request.” he finished, and thrust forward, toward the king.


Almiro was quick to intercept. Although his foot-long dagger was no match for his opponent's huge tomahawk made of stone, Almiro did have one advantage: the prince was not a broad and burly man, therefore he was slow with his large weapon, whereas Almiro wielded a knife that weighed, at most, two pounds.


Julian brought his ax down. Almiro dogged it easily, and slide down under his foe. Whipping around, he cut Julian's ankle, causing him to lose his balance for a single, crucial moment.


This will soon be over. He is simply too slow. Almiro thought as he pulled up from cutting the prince's ankle. He swerved behind him as his opponent staggered, and dug the knife into his back, twisting it as he pulled it out. Julian shouted in pain.


He can't handle that ax for much longer...It is too heavy for him... Almiro thought to himself again as he ducked, missing a swing from Prince Julian's ax.


Perhaps it was that Almiro became too confident, or maybe it was that Julian was holding back before, but as the prince swung again, his ax finally made contact with something other than air.


Almiro cried out as the sharpened edge of the ax ripped through his arm and took part of his tunic wit it. The force of the hit knocked him off his feet, and sent him tumbling to the floor.


Julian turned, breathing heavily. His chest heaved to and fro, like a ship riding the waves. He let his ax-wielding hand relax slightly. He said nothing, only walked towards Almiro, sure that the blow he had dealt had finished the squire. He stopped when Almiro twitched, and grunted in surprise.


The squire staggered to his feet, knife in hand. Julian grunted in disbelief once more. The weapon he carried had a low chance of striking a small and quick foe, but if it did, it was so massive that it almost always killed with a single blow.


“What is...what is wrong? You cannot kill me?” Almiro mocked. He rushed forward, knife poised.


“Don't mock me!” Julian screamed, and swung his weapon right in the path of the oncoming foe. The ax smashed into Almiro's left leg, sending him spiraling outwards from Julian.


The prince strode forward, letting his hands relax once more.


Almiro, with his last reserve of strength, jumped up and rushed Julian.


The prince, tired and caught off-guard, had no time to react. The dagger was shoved deep into his stomach, so far that half of the handle disappeared inside, the tip of the blade sticking out through his back.


Julian's eyes widened with total shock. He dropped his ax, and fell to his knees, breathing heavy and fast.


Almiro stepped back, but did not lift his head. “Not fast...enough...” he muttered. He fell to his knees as well, exhausted. Romana rushed to his side.


“Forgive me, father...This fight...I should not...have started...” the prince said, and fell over dead.


At that moment, the chamber doors burst open and a Roman soldier, armed with a spear, ran toward the king. Romana realized it was the guard that had left earlier, returning to fulfill his orders.


Almiro, collapsed on the floor, was unable to take any action. Romana, deciding things in a second in her mind, lunged towards the Roman. She fell to the ground, grabbing the soldier's legs, tripping him.


“Release me!” he shouted at her, and kicked her in the face. Romana did not release. “Let me go! Let me go!” he screamed. Romana did nothing but sink her teeth into the man's leg. He beat her over the head again and again, but she did not left go. Finally, he took his spear in one hand and thrust it through her leg.


Romana cried out in pain, giving the soldier the chance he needed to continue towards the king, who sat watching as if he was invincible to the ensuing struggles. He pulled the spear form her leg and stood up, starting again for King Moretti.


Romana quickly recovered and scrambled over to the lifeless body of the other guard, which was only a few feet away. She frantically looked for a weapon, and found a sheathed sword. She pulled it from it's casing and sprang towards the rushing soldier.


Sprinting as fast as she could, she quickly reached the guard and drove the sword through his lower back – a second too late.


The guard chucked the spear with all his might. It tore through the air, straight into King Moretti's chest.


The guard dropped. His body tumbled down the stairs to the king's throne.


Romana stepped back, horrified. At that moment, she felt a hand on her shoulder.


Falling back into her husband's arms, she began to sob. “I am so sorry, Almiro...I...I was not fast enough...” she half-wept.


Almiro gently guided her away from the gore. He grimly looked over his uncle, grimacing at the spear stuck through his chest. He almost died of shock when he heard him speak.


“Almiro...come...to me....” he struggled to say.


“Uncle...” Almiro said, leaving Romana at the bottom of the steps. “How...how are you still-”


“Almiro...my...my...my time is short...You must...listen...” King Moretti interrupted.


“Yes, my uncle?” Almiro said, grabbing his uncle's hand. Tears formed in the corners of his eyes.


Moretti shifted slightly in his seat. “You...have repaid your debt...” he said, slowly slipping off into the clutches of death.


“Yes...my lord.” Almiro said, holding back a mess of tears. He bowed, stood up and started to leave, when his uncle reach out and grabbed him by the arm.


“Bow...to no one...” he said, looking into his nephew's eyes.


As Almiro's eyes filled with tears once more, his uncle's head bobbed, and fell against his shoulder.


King Moretti was dead.


Kissing his uncle on the forehead, he turned and limped down the stairs to the weeping Romana.


“Do not weep, my darling. Come, we must escape this wretched place.” he said, helping her down the stairs. He was surprised that he could walk with all the damage he had sustained, even if he was limping badly.


The two stepped over the bodies of Julian and the guards, and headed for the door.


“How?” asked Romana. “How can we escape? Surely, the Romans have overthrown everyone in the castle by now.”


“I know of a secret passageway out of this place. I doubt the Romans have discovered it yet.” Almiro said as he and Romana opened the chamber doors. “Come, we must go, now.”


He nudged Romana out the door, and stopped. He turned and took a final glance at the sorry state of the room, a once festive place filled with banquets and merriment, all hosted by the king. Such a shame things turned out the way they did.


Almiro slipped out of the room, and closed the door.

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