The bed’s wooden frame groaned loudly as the weight of its new occupant slowly settled upon the mattress. Even without the accompaniment of his heavy armor, he was still a large man.
A single candle was burning within a small pewter dish. It disregarded wax already overflowing, tendrils of spent fuel pooling upon the large ornate table.
Slowly, dark brown eyes, dulled with age, surveyed their surroundings. It was a very spacious room. There was even a separate fireplace, which sat cold and unlit, along the outside wall. It was much to large to be used for single nights rest, and had cost as much.
But what was money worth. He would pass out gold coins as freely as other men horded copper. It held very little meaning to him.
A feeling of being watched still nagged at the cold eyes. He had stayed at this Inn only one time before. Tomorrow, early in the morning, he would be heading farther up the coast. Farther north. Farther then he had ever journeyed in that direction. And the nagging would only grow stronger, he knew, as he ventured nearer the great city that lay at the end of his journey.
The dead eyes continued their movements, coming to rest upon his suit of business, which laid neatly to on side. Even in the weak light, the highly polished holy symbol of Helm could be seen brightly on the breastplate. The same symbol was embossed upon the thick leather tunic he still wore.
But he was no paladin, this warrior in service of his lord. That, at one point in his life, had been his lifelong goal. A time when he was much younger… A time when she had been with him… A time when complicated matters concerned two hearts in love…
A time when she was alive…
The simple token had somehow worked it way out from beneath his heavy shirt. Captured, as it were, by an ordinary leather strap hung loosely about his neck. Its golden sheen capturing the wondering eyes, forcing the graying head to bow, wrinkled lids to slide shut.
‘Keep this ring near to your heart, my love. It shall bind us together when the forces of the world try to tear us apart. A single kiss to seal the deal, My Lady…’
The hands that came up to cuff the golden circle were callus, to many years of wearing the metal rings and leather binding of his gauntlets. Like his now down turned face, aged beyond their time.
All the searching, the fighting, and still there were no answers.
His journey, somehow he felt sure, was soon to come to an end. Desire and rage still burnt deep within, but there would be no answers. Unwilling acceptance showed within the determined features.
‘Why had she chosen him? Why had she refuse her divine right?’
Many times he had teased her that his ring had grown to small. But with a playful giggle she would show him how easily it would slide above her knuckle. And then, just as playfully fall into his arms… The simple golden band falling easily back into place around her finger.
And he knew his answers…
Their six years had been the happiest… Even in Athkatla…
‘I have fathered three children… and yet I have been no father…’
”Anomen! Protect our baby!!”
These were the last words that she had ever spoken to him. And they haunted him still. For even in this, he had failed her…
He had been pushing his oldest son behind him, trying to guide him to the rear of their home. To the room she was in… with their daughter… and their…
”Protect Our BABY…”
He had awoken in the hallway, just outside the door. Khalid lay beneath the protection of his body. A soft hand, from an arm outstretched from the bedroom, lay lightly above his balled fist. The golden token grasped tightly within his hand.
Three women, that he had cared very much for, wore this token… Now he was about to give it to another.
“Please forgive me Moira…”
Slowly the hands unfolded, releasing the captive toke. As it swung free, an indentation, a permanent scar, in the form of a circle, was revealed.
The old worn hand cupped the worn and aged face… But there would be no tears from these eyes which had bled there quota long ago…
She saw the bright white light come from beneath the closed door.
Nissie knew very little about the occupant of this particular room, but she had been asked very nicely by the performer in the main room to keep a watch over him. As she started to slowly open the door, the bright light quickly began to fade. But she could have sworn, as she peeked around the door’s edge into the darkening room, that a beautiful woman stood beside the bed with one hand draped lovingly on top of the man’s down turned head.
But there was nothing there now. Nothing but the man. Shoulders slump, head lowered, asleep while setting up.
And the small shine of gold…