Finally I can put something up!! Funnily enough the moment I saw the pictures the story formulated in head, just getting it written was the challenge. Minimum editing (i.e none) has been done, and I wish I could re write some sections, but too late by far. I used the following pictures for the story. - Tur's Arch deacon. - Sparrow's queen on her throne. - Greybeard's dark-haired raven lady. Hope the layout of the story is ok, I made it bigger and easier to read. I fragmented it a bit as well to help with reading on a computer screen. Hopefully it is ok Perpetual The familiar battle stench of shit, piss, smoke, and blood wafted past Reyal’s cultured nose, just as his great sword clove through another grimy scared young face in a flurry of brain and gore. The mechanical action of tearing the mighty blade from the mess of hopes and dreams it had destroyed was by now merely an unconscious motion. Three weeks of siege had driven any emotion from the fighting, the thought of food was more important than life lost. By his own reckoning Reyal could take half a hundred lives before Lunch for a slice of roasted meat swimming in gravy as long as it wasn’t horse or worse. The thought of his sergeant at arms famous “meat” stew threw Reyal off guard for a moment, giving a burly young red head with a blunt rusty short sword the chance to hurl himself from his ladder onto the battlements. The eager but undertrained youth thrust at Reyal, who easily sidestepped and as the youth overextended himself. The returned back swing from Reyal’s great sword near clove the man in two, adding to the human detritus littering the gore covered battlement. The Overcast sky hid the waning sun beyond cloud and drifting smoke from the many fires burning both on the field in front of the castle and at its weakened gates helped to obscure it. Reyal grimaced as he saw the main gate to the castle was burning steadily, with the green tinged flames of wildfire. Tomorrow nothing but charred timbers and the will and flesh of his men would bar the way from the hordes that besieged them. As if hearing his thoughts, a horn sounded from across the field calling the weary attackers back to the relative safety of their encampment. Reyal sighed with relief knowing that the days slaughter was over, sleep would be welcome but he suspected despite his fatigue it would not come easily. A page pushed through the weary bloodied men on the battlements to address Reyal. The fresh well laundered palace livery in stark contrast to the sweat and blood stained men basking in the fact that they had survived another day of battle. The fresh faced boy stood abruptly at attention before Reyal, eyes wide as he took in the horror of the days fighting which lay strewn about him. The page visibly blanched as he watched men casually throwing corpses and pieces of corpses over the wall to clear the battlement. “Speak boy…” commanded Reyal as he watched the page turn pale at the horror of war. No boy he thought deserved to see such sights if it could be avoided The page quickly regained composure at the steely tone he heard in his liege’s word. “Sir…The Arch deacon respectfully wishes his Lords presence in the great room at your earliest convenience”. Reyal grunted and waved the boy away. The page had gone but a couple of yards when Reyal rethought his approach and called to him. “Boy…convey my compliments to his eminence, and let it be known that I will confer with him at my earliest convenience after I see to my defences and my men’s wellbeing. Oh and I shall be in the Restwood…not the great room”. The page dutifully bowed and hurried away from the harsh reality of war to the relative safety of servitude in the citadel, all the way wondering how he would ever scrub the blood from his once pristine white boots. The next two hours passed quickly, as Reyal inspected the damage to the fortress and the men’s morale. Despite the loss of the main gate and the hopelessness of the situation, most were full of brave banter. Though to his experienced gaze the weary gait, reddened eyes and grim humour spoke more of men who had made their peace and were ready to go kicking and screaming into the face of death. For this Reyal was glad, it spoke volumes of his men and their acceptance of duty despite the outcome. For the first time in many days he felt a sense of sadness of sending so many to their deaths for something that now appeared to be little for than an foolish ideal. Reyal shook the grim thoughts from his mind as he saw to his defences. The shoring up of the main gate was rudimentary at best and was probably good for an hour before the fight would enter the courtyard until the citadel was breached and matters would become interesting. He silently cursed himself for being cornered like the proverbial rat in a trap…if only he had not lingered for that extra day enjoying himself. He silently laughed thinking how after so many years of being a free agent he was caught by his royal jewels exceptionally well this time. After making preparations as best he could and bolstering his men’s morale as far as the situation allowed without appearing condescending, a weary Reyal retired to the Restwood. The Restwood was in the heart of the citadel. A medium sized courtyard whose roof extended to the heavens. A solitary gnarled timeless oak was the centrepiece of the room. The ancient tree’s roots had been exposed over the eons, and they were interwoven into a semblance of a seat known as the oakenthrone. Reyal slowly sat his weary frame into the wooden seat. His head lay back and his eyes gazed at the encroaching night and it promise of a harvest moon. He mused that it would probably be a harvest of blood in the morning. Despite the fatigue and heavy thoughts, Reyal could not help but think of days gone by and in particular his last harvest moon ball a year past. Her gown was of a shimmering satin, only found in the eastern reaches. Cut low in a style often classed as base by high society, it would surely not be now after one as such a high station as this choose to wear it. Her entry to the ballroom, via the ornate curved stairway was as measured as her gown. The whole room, packed with the Kingdoms high society stopped in awe of the night’s newest debutante. The pale blue of her outfit was only exceeded by the glacier like sheen of her eyes set in the exquisite doll like porcelain white face framed by long wavy silver hair. The slight pout of her mouth and a hint of bemusement in her eyes showed that this was all a game to her, something to occupy her for an hour or two before tedium set in. She stalked across the room with a suggestive swagger in her hips, allowing the faintest of smiles to grace her lips as she casually brushed off would be suitors in her wake. Her ornate shoes gave a precise clicking sound as if marking off the eligible men one by one. Reyal stood at the edge of the room quietly taking it all in, all the time thinking “spoilt little bitch”. As a wealthy lord of the Northern Marches he was in good stead at court, despite quickly becoming tired of its intrigues. Reyal had usually managed to make his apologies for not attending the gala events that featured so heavily on many others calendars. But not this time. A summons had come from the Throne itself allowing for no escape from the coming of age ball for the Kings only daughter on the night of the Harvest Moon. Reyal began to notice a pattern to her movement, and realised he was the ultimate destination. At three score and four he was well past the perceived age of marriage. Years of hard work on the Northern Marches had honed his rugged good looks and increased his physique as well as his purse. The thought of a wife had barely crossed his mind despite having no apparent heir. His thoughts were interrupted by the hush that had fallen over the room, and the presence of the evening’s main spectacle standing patiently before him. “I assume you are lost for words, my lord….perhaps the North does not offer much in the way of beauty as one would find here in the heart of the Kingdom?” The petulant twist to her words gave thought to Reyal that this was a woman who always got her way, one of the perks of being the Kings only child perhaps. With a slight wariness in his mind, Reyal choose his reply carefully. “My Lady, the beauty in the North is but nature, and one merely gazes upon it not expecting a reply. My apologies for being so entranced by the presence you bestow upon us”. To his surprise she actually lost a touch of her regal composure and allowed a hint of colour to rise up her elegant neck, while a demure look softened her eyes. “My Lord, surely you jest? A man so well travelled as yourself would have seen many fine things, and sampled a few as well I presume” The slight arch of her eyebrows and the sultry smouldering penetrating gaze weakened Reyal’s reserve and he felt his heart beat faster and his loins tighten. He opened his mouth to reply, but before he could speak her hand found his and she spoke. “Come my lord, dance with me and we will speak more as you show me your skills…..on the ballroom floor”. With that he felt himself led through a throng of faces wearing masks of surprise, disappointment and outright hostility. The evening and the weeks that followed passed in a whirlwind. On the back foot from their first encounter, Reyal’s defence’s crumbled and were crushed by the relentless onslaught of this powerful young woman. Three moons later they were betrothed. The rumbling of the heavy oaken door at the entrance to the Restwood as it groaned inexorably open roused Reyal from his thoughts. The purposeful measured footsteps belied a man of perceived importance approaching, without a doubt his eminence the Arch Deacon. With a sigh the Arch Deacon stopped a few feet away from the Oakenthrone. Too far for a sword thrust Reyal mused. “My lord…Have you perchance given thought to my counsel?” he squawked. Reyal raised his head and looked directly at the Arch deacon. The man’s rheumy red eyes dropped under the withering stare. “You know Arch Deacon…I have pondered carefully on both the situation and your advisement on the matter. I have come to the conclusion that I wish to see it out in the manner it will ultimately come to if I choose not to follow your counsel”. The disappointment on the Arch deacon’s face was apparent, and for a second Reyal thought he saw anger, and then fear in the old man’s eyes. The Arch deacon suddenly dropped to his knees and raised his hands to Reyal. “My lord I implore you in the name of all that is holy…please reconsider for the sake of your life and your eternal soul!” Reyal stood up angrily and retorted. “Is it truly my life you wish to save? Or your own? As for your talk of saving my soul, that may well come to pass but I will make my accord on that!” The arch deacon fell back in shock . “Sacrilege my lord. You truly are beyond redemption now. I shall pray for you, but know that you are truly damned, and all within these walls with you! The elderly arch deacon scurried backwards toward the door as if afraid to take his eyes off the man who had suddenly turned into a demon in the eyes of his faith. Reyal sat back down heavily cursing his goading of the old man of the faith. The Arch deacon had once been a trusted confidant, and had proven his worth in many matters over the years. It was a shame to end the relationship on the sour note of throwing his beliefs in his face. A slight noise behind him broke into his thoughts. Without turning he spoke. “You might as well come out my love…for what transpired here is as much your doing as mine in his eyes”. A strikingly attractive raven haired woman emerged from the shadows that lay behind the oakenthrone. The woman stood briefly before the throne and then draped herself into Reyal’s lap and spoke in a husky tone. “Is my lord sorry for his sudden lack of faith or the fact that faith clouds others judgement so? Perhaps my lord would like to reaffirm his faith elsewhere?” Her teeth nibbled playfully at his ear, whilst she guided his hand to her breast as a soft moan escaped her lips. Reyal gazed into her emerald eyes as he ran his hands longingly over her willowy body. He felt desire rush toward him, and he plunged to meet it. A while later she lay in the crook of his arm, eyes closed but with a sated smile playing across her lips while he brushed his fingers through her dark locks. Reyal gazed down as the mask of serenity that covered her exquisite features and spoke softly. “You know that on the morrow our love should possibly end for reasons beyond all reason and control. But I should die happy for the time we have spent together and that flame will never truly perish”. Her eyes flickered open and the deep green become hard for a second before softening and she replied. “My lord, if it should come to that I shall go happily into deaths embrace wrapped in the strength of the love we have in this life and throughout the next. That will be my cloak against the darkness and clad in it I shall fear nothing”. Reyal sighed regretfully, closed his eyes and leant his head back into the familiar embrace of the oakenthrone. The promise of sleep was just beyond his grasp and he found himself thinking back to the time he had met her. Winds as cold as the hand of death swept in from the north, slowly sapping the strength of the small party making its way along the stony track. The snow fell incessantly adding to the misery on this unwanted journey. News had come to Reyal of a dispute amongst two of the lesser nobles in the northernmost province of his lands. The onset of an early and harsh winter had negated the idea of sorting out the matter personally, but a message from one of the nobles that pertained to rumours of rebellion had necessitated a visit to the region despite the weather. The party crested a rise and a village seeming like it was created entirely from mud and logs spread out before them. The low lying smoke from its dwellings choked the afternoon sky and gave a suffocating sense of oppression. In the centre of the mess lay a modest grey stone keep, with a large banner depicting two ravens in flight hanging from it ramparts. As the party approached the main thoroughfare to the keep, Reyal noted the lack of drainage in the town, giving it the look and smell of a stagnant swamp. The Portcullis of the keep was raised and Reyal and his men entered to meet the aggrieved noble within. A face appeared at one of the murder holes as they entered, and Reyal saw but for a moment a pair of emerald green eyes that sparkled despite the grey winter’s day. The life within those eyes stayed in his thoughts as he rode, brightening an otherwise cold and dark day. Hospitality within the walls was similar to the weather at first, but as the snows blocked the passes and it became obvious that there was no way to leave for at least a month the fires roared higher and so did peoples spirit. The matter at question was trivial and settled easily; talk of rebellion was merely a misunderstanding between scribes making the messages and settled internally. As time moved forward, so did friendships. Particularly between Reyal and the noble’s eldest and most spirited daughter. A statuesque willowy woman with emerald eyes and raven black hair common to the region, her beauty was only matched by her love of the land and her people. This far north the old ways had not died out and most still hung on to their beliefs despite pressure from the powerful “new” religion that grew in strength every day in the rest of the kingdom. It had been this woman’s eyes that had captivated Reyal on his arrival. As the snow receded and the passes cleared, it became apparent to Reyal that it was time to return to his own castle and affairs. Excuses to linger became harder to concoct and his men were growing worried by both his inability to set a time to leave and his infatuation with the noble’s daughter. Eventually the horses were readied and provisions stowed for the return journey, when Reyal made the surprise announcement. The noble’s daughter was returning with them. The journey home was somewhat more subdued that the journey north. Men went about their business quietly and an air of worry hung everywhere, except between Reyal and the woman. The flame between them was too bright to allow them to see anything but themselves. Officially the woman had come south to be tutored. However to all concerned her main study seemed to be of only one thing; Their Lord. As on the return journey a feeling of fear and anger cast its pall over the castle. Divisions appeared, with some happy for him and some fearful of the wrath of the King’s daughter when word reached her of his betrayal. As time passed and Reyal slowly awoke from the spell he had been under, he realised they had to leave and leave quickly. But it was too late. Word had reached the Kings daughter and she had come north with an army to exact her revenge. The Hammering of stones against the castles wall was now a distant memory. The mighty trebuchets and Mangonels had fallen silent, for there was no wall left to bombard. The fire weakened gate had collapsed taking a large portion of the southern wall with it. Amongst the rubble and broken bodies men and women fought desperately to prevent the attacker’s entry but to no avail. Like the tide, the army of attackers sweep over the wall, showing no mercy as they poured toward the citadel. Reyal swung his great sword like a man possessed, hewing through flesh and bone at every swing, but for every one that fell two appeared to take his place. His own men’s numbers dwindled through both death and desertion, and the fall back to the citadel was a quick and bloody affair. As the citadel doors heavy oak bars fell with a resounding finality, Reyal knew the siege was over. With a heavy heart he turned to his sergeant at arms and spoke. “Take all you can through the tunnels into the Northwood. The fault here is mine, and ends with me. You should have no quarrel once the matter is settled. Go now!” The man opened his mouth to argue, but the hammering of a ram against the citadel doors changed his mind. “At once my lord” The man turned and beckoned to the few remaining soldiers to start moving people into the catacombs beneath the citadel, where ancient tunnels would provide an exit to the relative safety of the Northwood. As he stood alone, amongst the dust falling from the assault on the door he knew when he wanted to be. Reyal dropped his sword and began to head for the Restwood slowly peeling off his armour as he walked through the empty halls. Reyal wearily sat down in the welcome grasp of the oakenthrone. The familiar feel of the wood warmed his heart, and as in response the clouds parted and the sun streamed down bathing him in light. Eyes closed he felt her presence alongside him, her hand grasped his and hand in hand they listened to the rhythmic pounding from below in silence. An almighty crash and a cheer signified the collapse of the citadel door. The pounding of armoured feet and crashing of breaking furniture was punctuated by the occasional scream as the citadel was searched. The noise got closer until it was in the corridor outside where it suddenly ceased. A few minutes of silence prevailed, broken only by the faint crackling of flames and cries of wounded and dying outside. Reyal took this respite to gaze longingly at his raven haired love, and opened his mouth to speak. Her hand went up to his lips and she whispered in his ear. “My lord, say nothing for there is nothing that needs to be said. I feel in my heart what you feel in yours and for this I am gladdened. Whatever transpires here today, rest assured we will meet again, for what we have will never die”. The silence was broken by a clicking sound that was strangely familiar to Reyal; it ominously came closer and closer before stopping directly outside the Restwood doors. The mighty oaken doors of the Restwood groaned open and a retinue of armed gore splattered Imperial guards filed in to form a guard of honour at the entrance. The source of the familiar clicking sound came into view as the Kings daughter stood in the doorway. Gone was any semblance of the softer side of the women Reyal had known in the capital. Her pretty silver haired framed face showed anger that turned to hatred at the sight of the raven haired girl at Reyal’s side. She spoke with vehemence as she strode into the room followed by her grim faced guards, many of whom Reyal had known both on the field of battle and in friendship before recent events. “Recognise these shoes my northern lord of lies? They walked to you once in the pursuit of love…now they walk to you to bring downfall to you and your scheming pagan bitch!” Reyal felt the grip on his hand tighten and sensed the anger and bared teeth of his true love beside him . As the Kings daughter approached the guards spread around the oakenthrone and moved in to separate the two lovers. Reyal felt as if his heart was torn asunder as her grip was prised from his, and the guards drew them apart and held them to await the rage that must surely come. The Kings daughter drew up in front of him, eyes flashing with a mix of victory and fury. Her soft white arm suddenly drew back like a whip and struck him, her expensive rings drawing blood from his cheek. “Your betrayal of my love has cost not only your future but the future of the people of your lands. Even as we speak my armies are tearing apart the North. The very existence of you and your primitive ways is being ripped apart and expunged from the annals. We are paying particular attention to the northernmost regions and their belligerence to change to the one true religion”. The king’s daughter smiled coldly at the raven haired girl who had begun to struggle with the guards at these words. “I have paid particular attention to one such holding to the north. The Ravens do naught up that way now except pick at the bones of the dead amidst the burnt ruins and salted fields. I am told the noble in charge of that wretched place and his accursed family took a very long time to die under the instruments of the royal inquisitors”. She turned back to Reyal and her cold eyes bored into him. Her voice was flat and emotionless as she whispered to him “I once had a love that meant something to me, a reason to exist for I knew he would one day come and take his place with me in the capital. Together we would have ruled fair and just and the world would have benefited immensely from our love. …But you shattered the dream with your sacrilege, you who were pledged to me and me only! The sacred vows we took in the holy sanctum were crushed and spread like dust unto the wind. And so shall you and your peoples future be as well. I have no more tears left…for they have been shed upon the altar of our broken love. So I turned to those who would help and guide me in the light of the one true god, and they bade me go north and seek redemption by purging the betrayal I have suffered and cut the roots that nurtured it out as well”. With this statement the King’s daughter turned and nodded to her captain. The man stepped forward and ran a dagger over Reyal’s throat. Reyal felt a searing pain, and his breath disappeared in an instant as blood ran down his windpipe. He sensed falling forward and a searing pain blossomed in his chest as his lungs tried to expand without air. As his sight began to fade his last glimpses of his life were of two things. The Restwood in its natural glory was his place of thought and redemption, a source of peace for his entire life. The mighty Oakenthrone with the afternoon sun streaming through its timeless branches, and the faint call of birdlife high in it grasp. The breeze whipped through the limbs, and he perceived voices in the swirling wind calling to him as he felt his life slipping away. He vaguely noticed a flurry of movement to his side as his dark haired love reached down, and then shook herself from the grasp of the guards restraining her. She lunged forward with a grimace of hate on her face and threw herself at the King’s daughter reaching her a moment before a cross cut from another guard sliced across her back and she fell in a crumpled heap. As her life drained from the gaping wound in her back her eyes met his in a look of triumph before growing flat and lifeless. Reyal looked up once more before death took him, and saw the King’s daughter on her knees with a dagger thrust deep in her lower stomach. She looked at him imploringly with the innocent eyes he once remembered and reached toward him in longing. A short sharp eruption of blood jetted from her mouth and she fell forward toward him, as if seeking a touch of warm flesh for the last time. Her head turned toward him and he saw her mouth the words “sorry” as the light dimmed in her eyes. The darkness took Reyal moments after the last breath of the Kings daughter. None of the guards moved for quite a while, all merely stared at the three bodies lying on the floor of the Restwood. The arms of the two women both were outstretched toward Reyal as if hoping the touch of the one they had both once loved would deliver them from the darkness of death. And the mighty Oakenthrone stood silent and impassive as it had always.