Posted by the_flax
One Year Ago
Lothaire strode at a hasty pace through the dimly lit hallways of the mansion, dressed in full battle regalia, the clatter of his hard leather boots muffled by the rich rugs covering the polished stone floors. So intent was he on his own swirling thoughts that he almost collided with a silhouette blocking the doorway to the stables.
“You are leaving.” Lothaire recognized at once the flat tone as belonging to his wife, Oriane.
Groping for words, he cursed under his breath, it wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
“I left a letter.” He simply replied, in the same matter-of-fact tone as his wife.
“I read it.”
“It was meant for later.”
“I know.” Oriane cringed, unable to maintain her stoic facade anymore. “Maker’s breath Lothaire, what in the fade are you doing?!”
He lowered his eyes, was it shame? “I need to do this.”
“You have a choice. There is always a choice.” Her reproachful gaze bore through him. “You are running away, like a coward!”
Lothaire shook his head slowly. “Its not…” He started.
Oriane cut him off, her voice still rising. “You are running away!”
He shrugged. “Perhaps.” His bitter voice now tinged with sadness. “I cannot fight this Oriane. I am not willing to sacrifice my charges, my responsibilities…” His head rose and his eyes locked with hers. “And those I love.”
“Why?” She queried, her voice now calm as a placid lake.
“I killed a man.” Lothaire’s head dropped once more. “A boy really.”
“Who?” Oriane asked slowly after an awkward silence.
“One of the Empress Celene’s nephews, Alphonse.” There was a small surge of resolve in his words. “I will not let Tourrin bear reprisals because of one man’s mistakes.”
“The battle earlier…” Her voice trailed off as she recalled her husband arriving at Tourrin earlier, bloody and wounded.
“Yes. Alphonse, Gervais d’Armagnac and Yvon des Saults; they attacked me on the road home.” She moved her hand to gently caress his bare leathery cheek and spoke in comforting tones. “You only defended yourself.”
Lothaire simply gave a mournful smile until she lifted his chin with her forefinger and stared at him with teary eyes.
“Promise you will return.” Oriane nearly choked on the words and he moved closer to give her a comforting embrace. A few silent tears ran from his eyes, he knew he could promise no such thing. Lothaire lovingly kissed her on the forehead.
“I promise, Oriane. I promise I will return.”
She pulled away from him and save for her red eyes, she had regained her composure.
“I will help you ready your horse, and you will need provisions.”
As Oriane left to see to those things at a busy pace, Lothaire could only mutter a brief “Thank you.” He felt anything but thankful at the moment.
Earlier that day
Lothaire took in a deep breath of the sweet countryside air, it smelled like home. The trip to Val Royeaux had not been unpleasant, but he was eager to return to Tourrin, spend some time with his wife and his people. He had been away too long for his tastes, about a month, but one had to make the occasional trips to the capital to pay his respects, among other, less pleasant, things. Tourrin was an out of the way locale and so Lothaire was surprised to find a small party other than his on the small dirt road.
Without hurry, both groups approached each other, clustered together due to the dense tickets on either side. A dozen or so pace away, Lothaire recognized the boy leading the small group and oddly, for someone of his station, he didn’t have his colors visible; more odd was that he seemed to have come from Tourrin, yet there was little of interest there. Immediately, Lothaire felt there was something wrong about the whole situation, but as custom would have it, he advanced alone to meet his opposite number.
“My lord, you do me honor by visiting my lands.” The greeting was spoken in a reserved but respectful tone.
“Ser de Tourrin, I did not think you would return from the capital so soon.” The words came out with a snide undertone that convinced Lothaire the boy was lying about the second part, but no matter what his instinct told him, he had to follow protocol; it was what was expected of him after all.
“Please allow me to escort you out of my demesne.”
The boy became suddenly nervous and glanced errantly at the thicket at their sides.
“That will not be necessary.” His voice attempting to become commanding, he continued. “I ask that you cede me and mine passage.”
Lothaire also gave an errant glance to the thicket, now convinced that his men and him would perish if they acquiesced the boy’s request. Nevertheless, there was little he could do, except perhaps stall for some time.
“My lord, I must insist.” This time Lothaire’s voice was thickly coated with a veneer of concern. “I would be remiss if harm would to come to a blood relation of the Empress on my lands.”
A twig snapped and Lothaire turned, his hand already on his sword hilt when a bolt grazed his neck. As his naked blade came out accompanied by shouts from his men, he noticed the boy, Alphonse, had brought to bear a heavy mace. The first powerful swing would have completely crushed his thorax if not for a timely intervention from his shield arm, blocking the potentially fatal blow. The devastating weapon broke through the shield, cracking the bones in his arms as it sent him careening off his mount.
Lothaire tumbled in the dirt, his damaged arm hung useless at his side, sending waves of pain. As he struggled to rise, his remaining good hand found his blade. Kneeling, he barely had time to bring the sword to bear before Alphonse, now also dismounted, attacked him with a two-handed overhead swing meant to shatter his skull. The boy, in his prime was fast, but Lothaire had reflexes honed by a score of years spent fighting and training. The mace was blocked by the blade, but to Lothaire’s dismay and Alphonse’s glee, it snapped the blocking weapon in two, sending the older man reeling to the ground.
A snide smile was etched across the young noble’s face as he slowly advanced to land a killing blow on his victim.
“Who would have thought that killing a chevalier would be so easy? No wonder we lost against those Ferelden barbarians.”
Without a word or warning, Lothaire lashed out with an armored boot which connected with the younger man’s knee. There was a moment where Alphonse struggled to regain his balance, but in the end his heavy panoply of war played against him. He tipped over, arms still outstretched trying desperately to grab something and his eyes wide as he realized he was falling on Lothaire’s outstretched broken sword. The jagged metal went through Alphonse’s neck up to the hilt. There was a wet gurgle, blood started to pour from the boy’s neck and mouth, but Lothaire’s mind was elsewhere. Casually, he pushed off the dying body and grabbed the reins of a panicked horse, after having absently sheathed the remains of his blade.
All Lothaire could think about as he galloped away, his dying men buying him precious seconds to escape, was how he had just doomed himself. He remembered spotting Gervais and Yvon in the ambush and they would surely report a different story than his. Tourrin, his people and his loved ones would potentially suffer a great deal because of this and at the very least, there would be great shame. Better he had died, even if it would have enabled whatever scheme those two had planned. Then he realized he could still die, in a sense. If he simply disappeared with little explanation, no one would blame those he cared about, but that would mean the only side of the story would be Gervais’ and Yvon’s. He could live with that lie, if it meant protecting everyone he cared about.
With each stride of his horse, Lothaire grew more determined. He would go away and perhaps one day he would be able to return, but that was not the most important. Others would not have to face the fallout of this. It was his problem, his mistake and it was his duty to suffer the consequences.