“There you are Nikolaj. We must speak.”
Nikolaj and Alexia were going through their morning sword routine in preparation for the upcoming battle while Johannes was preparing his alchemy concoctions.
“Dear brother,” said Nikolaj, “a good morning to you. Would you care for some muesli?”
“Nikolaj, I have rechecked the portents. They are bad. We must…”
Nikolaj cut Mikkel off, “We must crush this Iobarian would-be tyrant and not prostrate our mewling selves like those honor-less Issian pirates.” The irritation in Nikolaj’s voice softened, “Mikkel, I spoke with Estruan about your worries. The scouts have checked and re-checked. They are just some raiders, there is nothing special, there is no devilry about. We are the Swordlords and we will defend Rostland as we always have.”
“You and Estruan both underestimate Choral. Your pride will grant precious little armor against that which assails you today.” Mikkel crossed his arms and looked coldly at his older brother.
Nikolaj walked over and faced his brother in silence. After a moment they embraced.
“Very well. I shall go prepare to lend what aid that I can.” Mikkel turned and walked away, but stopped after a moment and turned back and spoke with an unusual sadness in his voice, “Goodbye dear brother.”
As Mikkel started to take his final leave, Johannes ran up, “Wait father.”
Catching up to Mikkel, Johannes asked, “Why do you think we will not win this day? Estruan has summoned the might of the Swordlords here today! You alone could defeat an army with your magic! I do not understand how it is that you think us doomed to defeat?”
“Johannes, do not be naive. The Swordlords can barely be considered an army and no amount of preening on their part will change the fact that they do not know how to fight together. And if my magic were to ever be able to defeat an army, it would not be through the explosions you are so fond of. If I were truly skilled in the art, I would be able to grant wisdom to fools and those fools would heed portents! But no, it comes back to the short game pitted against the long game and Mikkel only plays the short game. No doubt why he gets along so well with the humans. Now I must go and do what I can to keep as many of you fools alive as I am able on this day of ill omen. Do try to not be overly foolish today, boy.”
Alexia walked up to Johannes and put her arm around his shoulders and his father walked briskly away. “That is perhaps the foulest mood I have ever seen him in,” she said.
“Yes,” said Johannes. “He is often disapproving of Uncle, but never like this. It worries me that he has so little faith in us.”
“Now, love, don’t you go worrying like your father. It’ll ruin your looks and I won’t stand for that. Here, take this. Just whisper my name and it’ll lead you to where you need to go.”
Johannes admired the fine compass Alexia had gifted to him. Wherever you go, there you are. -Love A. was engraved on the back. Johannes opened the case and saw the delicate compass point directing to the north. He looked at Alexia and smiled, whispering, “Alexia” and the compass point turned, pointing at his Uncle’s protege. Alexia winked at him.
Nikolaj ran up, putting his arms around the two of them. “Now, now, my favorites. There will be plenty of time for that later. Time to get to our places. I look forward to being regaled by your acts of heroism and skill this evening.”
As Nikolaj and Alexia departed to join their brigade, Alexia turned and called out to Johannes, “Hey, Weird Johannes, try not to hit any of our guys with your bombs!”
“It’s called ‘splash damage’ you crybabies. Suck it up and go whine to the cleric!” called back Johannes.
Johannes’ unit was waiting in reserve when it happened, when the world exploded into fear and flame. Reports had been that the Swordlords had the upper-hand. The Rostlanders were not delivering the trouncing they had expected, but were definitely besting the Iobarians. And then the roars from the sky echoed across the valley shaking the bones of the mountains. Panic gripped Johannes and his unit and warriors fled in every direction. Screams of fear and pain were everywhere as fire rained down from above. Choral’s dragons had arrived and they brought chaos and death unto the Rostlanders.
But this was a blur to Johannes as dragon fear gripped him and he ran blindly, barely registering his wounds or those of his fellow soldiers. It was not until Johannes had made it well into the Gronzi forest that the enchantment faded and he regained his senses. He could still hear screams in the distance, but it was hard to tell which direction and how far. With shaking hands he withdrew his compass and whispered, “Alexia.” As the compass point started to move from the northerly direction, Johannes’ heart leapt to his throat. But the compass point did not stop, it just slowly spun around, directionless. “No, no, no,” Johannes wept. Eventually the compass point returned to its northerly direction. “Nikolaj.” The compass did not move. “Mikkel, father.” Again the compass did not move.
Johannes staggered up, bracing against a tree. I must find allies, he thought. I must find father. It is now the long game.
Now it really is a long game. But is it the same game as when I started out?
“Were one of these soldiers a relative?” asked a half-elven woman.
Johannes had been lost in memory staring at the Battle of the Valley of Flame memorial in Restov.
“I, erm. Yes. Nikolaj Bronsted is, er, was. I, uh, am Johannes Bronsted.”
The woman’s eyes widened, “You’re related to Nikolaj Silas Bronsted? The elven swordlord?! I did not realize Sir Bronsted had sired any offspring. I am Taissa Aldori and it is an honor to meet one of his descendants,” she said as she bowed.
“Oh, uh, I, the honor is mine, Swordlord,” Johannes replied as he bowed in respect, but also in a manner that was no longer much in use.
The Swordlord contemplated Johannes curiously.
“Uh, he was my uncle, er side. That is to say, I’m from his brother’s side of the family. Mikkel Bronsted. Nikolaj’s brother. I, uh, don’t suppose you have heard about Mikkel? I noticed his name isn’t on the memorial.” Johannes was struggling to find the words he wanted without having to explain his unusual history. Clerisaana had advised him on prudence and he took her advice to heart.
“No,” Taissa responded slowly. “I have not heard of Sir Bronsted’s brother, Mikkel. Everyone who fought for Rostland at the Battle of the Valley of Flame perished. We gathered these names from the records of all those that were supposed to be there. If Mikkel was there, his name would have been engraved here.”
Johannes looked at where both his and his father’s names should have been. Only his uncle was listed. Johannes replied, “I’m sorry, I must be in error. Rostland is very different from when last I was here.”
Taissa corrected him, “You mean Brevoy? Since last you were in Brevoy?”
“Ah, yes, Brevoy.” Johannes agreed, not quite pronouncing it the same way as Taissa.
“Well, Johannes Bronsted, it has been an honor to meet you,” said Taissa and after a moment of contemplation added, “The mayor’s office is offering charters in support of exploring the Greenbelt to our south. If you are interested, I would encourage you to apply.”
“Oh? Thank you. Perhaps I will.”
As Taissa walked away, Johannes turned back to the memorial and brushed his finger across Alexia’s name and sighed. Thank you for the time we had, my love_, he thought, and now I must figure out for once, how to play the long game._