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  1. Does anyone fancy having a quick read of the opening to my story? What do you think?
  3. A storm was coming, the black clouds swirled overhead and cracks of thunder in the distance rang out like cannon fire, “we need to shelter your grace, we can’t afford to lose another mule to the wolves, we already have more than we can carry” said Egon hurriedly as he tried to steady his horse, Egon Ragwald was an intimidating man with a mass of thick dark curls that fell just about his broad shoulders, but his eyes were softer and kinder than they should have been, he became a housecarl in his fifteenth year just like his father before him, the Ragwalds had served as housecarls for 6 generations, for this they were respected throughout Aenor and even in the kingdoms beyond the border.
  4. “I don’t care about the stories your grace, our horses and pack mules will be picked off one by one if we stay in the open.”
  5. “Alright Egon! You’ve made your bloody point.” said King Gaufrid with exasperation.  “Attention men, gather your things, mount your horses, we’ll take shelter inside the ruins.
  6. There was an air of reluctance and the men took longer than they should to be ready to ride, usually the King wouldn’t have tolerated such slowness, but even he himself,  a man who was well acquainted with the horrors of war felt uneasy about Castle Eira.
  7. Egon felt the first drop hit his brow as they made their way towards Eira, the black clouds had become thick and heavy, thunder cracked overhead as a fork of lightning illuminated the decaying ruins. Eira was once a formidable fortress, it’s grey bricks stretched along walls and up four imposing towers that loomed out against the barren landscape, it was once the stronghold to the High King of Aenor, previously impenetrable until the War of Glass. Now it stood a shell of its former glory, years of harsh elements battered the stone leaving it weak and crumbling among the overgrown tendrils of ivy, nothing but weeds grew among the ruins, no birds sang apart from the carrion that roosted upon the decay, Eira stood in silence.
  8. The rain thundered onto the dry ground as the men approached what was once the proud gate of Eira, the metal was twisted and broken, Egon dismounted and led his horse through the opening.
  9. “Shh Luka, calm boy.” He patted him on the neck, even the horses showed reluctance from being in Eira.
  10. Gaufrid followed close behind, coming level with Egon they stood in what was once a magnificent courtyard “They say it was beautiful once, the pride of Aenor they called it.” he said.
  11. “That must have been an age ago your grace.” Whispered Egon as he looked around looking for a place to shelter the horses and mules. “Think we need to go further in, these buildings will offer no safety.”
  12. The buildings which were once thriving with life were consumed by fire during the battle, homes and inns ravaged by flames, the hustle and bustle of life within the walls had turned to screams of war and now nothing.
  13. They made their way through the silence and towards the castle itself, it looked even more intimidating now it was getting dark. “Asa, Cedric, gather some fire wood, keep your wits about you men, we’ll wait for you at the entrance to the main hall.” ordered Gaufrid.
  14. “Your Grace.” They said in unison.
  15. “I don’t like this place one bit.” Whispered Asa under his breath.
  16. “They say that travellers have heard the screams of babes as they burned in their beds.” Muttered Cedric, wishing he hadn’t.
  17. A cold shiver ran down his back, “Enough, let’s just get this done and done quickly” Asa added.
  18. Egon, Gaufrid and the other men led the horses up the crumbling steps and up to the huge door, the metal bolts had rusted due to years of neglect and arrow marks still decorated the surrounding frame. The men stood in silence, not one of them wanted to be the first through that door, even Egon who did not care for ghost stories hung back a few yards.
  19. They started as Asa and Cedric came lumbering up the steps with arms of wood and dead grass, “this should be plenty to keep us warm for the night your grace.”
  20. “Very well men, let’s get out of the elements and into the dry.” said Gaufrid “seeing as this was your idea Egon, you first.”
  21. Egon walked towards the door, it looked heavy but as he placed his hands upon it to push, the wood crumbled and splintered under his palms, “At least we know no one’s been here for a while your grace.” The door swung open to reveal a vast room with thick ornate pillars carved into the wall, the red and gold tiles on the floor were peeling and cracked but there was nothing else, no furniture, no wall tapestries, nothing, towards the back were two rusty steel doors set into either side of the room.
  22. Two of the men tied the horses and mules to one of the pillars and rummaged around in one of the mules knapsacks for some hay while Asa and Cedric got to work lighting a fire.
  23. Egon gathered up the furs that were packed on the mules, kicking at the dust with his boot he cleared a space and threw them down on the floor, “You should get some rest your grace, we still have a long ride back to the Rose City tomorrow.”
  24. “What would I do without you Egon, it’s like having my very own wet nurse.” Laughed Gaufrid. “I jest, firstly I’d like some food and some wine, I don’t know about you but this royal belly takes a lot of looking after.” Gaufrid patted his belly and chuckled to himself, he was a round and jolly man with a kind face and woolly copper beard, he was well loved as king and even more so by those close to him. Egon searched a knapsack for some bread, cheese and wine, there wasn’t much left as they’d been travelling for longer than expected, he handed the wine to Gaufrid who took a long swig and wiped his mouth, “Ahh much better” he said and handed it back to Egon.
  25. Asa blew as the fire started to light, it had gotten cold since the sun went down, like all the heat the ground had absorbed seemed to be washed away by the rain, it had been a long and close summer and a storm was just what was needed to clear the air, thunder still cracked around them and sheets of lightning lit the room through the high windows that were surprisingly mostly enact. A burst of light and warmth filled the room as the flames caught hold of the dry grass. The men gathered round the fire and warmed their hands, Gaufrid let out a long sigh, “What troubles you Your Grace?” asked Egon,
  26. “Trouble is the right word, I wonder what awaits me when I return.”
  27. “Snow?”
  28. “However did you guess!” he mused “She just hasn’t been the same since my Essie succumb to the pox”
  29. “Forgive me Your Grace if I’m speaking out of turn, but My Lady’s passing has had that effect on many”
  30. “She thinks I’m marrying too soon” Sighed Gaufrid. “Tell me Egon, what is a man to do, I’m left with no heir and no woman to lay beside me of a night and keep my bed warm whilst I’m away, I could never love like I did my Essie but as king I have a duty to provide a prince.”
  31. “Of course Your Grace.”
  32. “She will just have to get used to it, I’m sure Snow will grow to love Lady Melica just as I hope to.” Gaufrid straighten himself, “that’s too much seriousness for tonight men, let’s eat”.
  33. The men sat a little way back from the fire and shared out the bread and cheese, it was far past its best but it filled their bellies and put them all in a better mood, rain still pounded onto the roof, it was a welcome sound even though they were glad to be out of it.
  35. Egon stirred as the morning light flooded in through the glass, the rain had stopped but the morning was cold. He shuffled over to the fire, it had burnt down to embers, he poked it with a stick and added some grass and twigs in the hopes it would burn again and add some warmth to his bones.
  36. “Early to rise as ever I see.” Grumbled Gaufrid.
  37. “Reluctant to rise as always, Your Grace.” He laughed and turned to face the king, “I hope you had a restful sleep.”
  38. “As much as I could over your hog grunts!”
  39. Egon smiled at Gaufrid, these two men cared for one another as if they had been born of the same maid, they had made merriment and been bloodied by war many times but had always remained close, it wasn’t hard for them, Egon was and had always been faithful to his king and it was obvious Gaufrid appreciated this.
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