Being the son to a global fugitive was no easy feat.
I had been with Master Crion Shadownight for as long as I could remember. I reminisce, so fondly, the day my mother took up work in the Shadownight household as a cook. I was the boy that everyone asked for a pail of water.
“Jim, dear, be a good lad an’ fetch a pail o’ water, why don’t ye?” – was as much as anyone would say to me.
I once stumbled along the path from the well, and a young man came to my aid, and helped me with my bucket and my awfully sprained ankle.
I was affrighted and surprised to know that that man was Master Crion – a sympathetic smile and a helpful hand in the flesh. From that day we became companions – I, his serving gentleman – and soon our companionship had grown into a close friendship. He never seemed to mind that I was merely a serving boy.
He had told me, “James, my father was a serving man also. In my eyes, you are no better than him, and he no better than you. I love and respect my father, and I would never belittle him. So I shall love and respect you, and I will never belittle you.”
That man, the man I knew to be fair and just and kind, that man is dead.
On the eve of his twenty-second birthday, it happened. Sir Shagor, my liege-lord and employer, had – quite contrary to his slogan – made his share of enemies. Selling political secrets was no small act. Feared, though he might be, there was no doubting that the knight was still very mortal. It was when this thought had been put into action, that I had heard footsteps outside the Manor. I hadn’t slept well that night – I suffer from bouts of insomnia – and I could see clearly: armed men in masks lurking through the courtyard. I did not know what to make of this, my mind being numbed by a restless sensation, but I stiffly rose from bed – feeling the need to warn the household – and made my way immediately to Master Crion’s quarters.
What he was doing, I shall not detail, but he rose up in bed with a start and looked at me furiously.
“James! These are ungodly hours for a visit!” he said, whispering harshly, “And without so much as a knock! Pray, what is the meaning of this?”
“I meant not to disturb you, sir,” I said, still in half a daze, “But there are–”
A window shattered near-by.
Master Crion’s face blanched, “What was that?”
“We must leave, sir,” I said, trying – for the Love of God – to wake up, “We must leave now.”
“What’s happening?” he demanded.
There was a sense of urgency returning to my voice, as I said, “Men, sir, armed men are breaking into your home,” I pulled him out of bed.
He looked up with a start. A strangled scream pierced the silence.
“Come on!” I urged.
I pulled him along, ignoring as he lagged to fix his trousers, and followed me to the library.
“Come on, you cowards!” I heard Sir Shagor bawl, “Come on and have a go! Let’s see if I don’t make you all eunuchs by the end of this!”
The clash of steel – no matter how far below – could be heard from this floor, the grunting of the knight and the agonised cries of his adversaries shooting sharply up the flights of stairs so that we could hear them clearly.
“I should join them,” mumbled Master Crion, “I should fight alongside my father. I should protect my household.”
“You will not survive this, sir!” I snapped, as the slight but sure smell of smoke began to trickle in, “Come on!”
I took a specific book from one of the vast shelves and a bookshelf turned sideways, revealing a secret escape.
“I can’t leave!” declared Crion, “I’m staying right here and helping.”
Sir Shagor had warned me about this, in case of emergencies.
I have many regrets – this is one of them.
Yes, Master Crion owed it to his family. Yes, it was partially his responsibility to protect them in times of danger. And, yes, his desire to protect them is admirable.
But I – my job was to protect him. And only him.
This in mind, I took the largest volume from one of the shelves and whacked him square on the forehead until he passed out. I picked his unconscious body up and put him over my shoulder. Taking one last look at the library, the smoke becoming thicker now, I heard Sir Shagor howl in pain and bark profanities at his adversaries. I prayed silently for mercy, and escaped through the secret passage-way, closing the entrance behind me.
I sit now at an inn – far, far from the burnt-out carcass of the Manor. Master Crion seems to be trapped in a dark world, he speaks little and weeps often. I haven’t seen him smile in months – an action that he was so generous with before.
I know that the remaining members of the Shadownight family are most probably dead and burnt to a pile of ashes.
I am just glad that I have spared one.