Sword of Honor, Shield of Lies

Submitted into Contest #241 in response to: Start your story with an unexpected betrayal.... view prompt

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Alrick stared in horror as sounds faded and his vision tunneled. What did a soldier do when the one he pledged his loyalty to used it to incite a war?


Alrick, Paladin Commander, strode down the stone corridors of the palace, his metal-clad boots and armor clacking with each step. At the end of the corridor, he pushed a pair of double doors open on silent hinges. His position allowed him to enter the royal study without permission or proper introduction, a privilege granted to very few.

Four men turned at Alrick’s arrival, two of whom wore City Patrol patchwork green and yellow. Alrick recognized the taller and broader of the two as Percian, the City Patrol Captain. The second man was unfamiliar. Based on the lack of any chest insignia indicating rank, Alrick assumed he was a recruit. Tall and spindly with a thin spattering of blond stubble on his chin, the boy looked hardly on the cusp of manhood.

Against the wall to the left stood an older man garbed in a dark, tattered cloak cinched closed by a mud-encrusted length of rope. Mud caked his bald head and clumped within his long gray beard. Alrick dismissed the unarmed elder as a potential threat and turned his attention to the fourth man in the room.

“Sir Alrick, I’m glad you could join us,” King Raedan reclined in his seat across the table from Percian and the recruit. His demeanor was calm and controlled, but Alrick could sense the tension in the air. A tiny tick in the older man’s jawline betrayed his clenched jaw, and his usual slicked-back peppered gray hair was slightly askew. It took a great deal to distress the King of Thalean, and the current situation was clearly one of those rare instances.

“I am at your service, My Liege,” Alrick bowed low enough to be respectful yet not enough to block his view of the other men. He didn’t miss the subtle eye-roll from Percian. King Raedan waved dismissively and turned his attention back to the Patrol Captain as Alrick rose to his full height.

“As I was saying, Your Majesty, the scout I sent,” Percian gestured to the recruit, “can attest to the priest’s claim. Ravika was attacked and burned to the ground.”

Reassessing the older man, Alrick could make out the faded gilded rope tying his robes. The golden article of clothing paired with the faded symbol of a golden shield on his robes marked the man as a Priest of Havela, the Shieldmaiden, and the same Goddess that Alrick pledged himself in service to.

At Percian’s nod, the recruit stepped forward, his face flush under the scrutiny of his sovereign. As he stumbled through his report on the devastation that befell Ravika, Alrick noticed the lack of dirt on the boy’s uniform and skin. Even his short blond hair was so clean that it shone against the sunlight filtering through the windows. Alrick understood the young man’s desire to look presentable before his king, but news such as the kind he brought shouldn’t have allowed time to clean himself.

“The town was burnt to the ground, Your Majesty. Bodies lined the streets. I looked for survivors but found none.” Sweat gathered on the boy’s brow as he glanced at his Captain before continuing. “The attackers were gone by the time I got there, but…” Again, he glanced at Percian. “I found weapons. And they weren’t the kind we use or that the people of Ravika would have.”

Raedan’s eyebrows rose. “And what weapons were those, boy?”

The scout wiped his palms on his uniform pants. “They were elven weapons, Your Majesty. Massive longbows, stone arrows, and blades of black stone.” The King gave no reply but nodded toward Percian. The captain slapped a proud hand on the boy’s shoulder before dismissing him. Once the door closed, the room went silent.

Alrick wasn’t sure what to think. Ravika was the closest human settlement to the forested line that marked the border between their peoples, but the village was at least fifty miles from the boundary. If the elves were going to travel so far to attack, why set their sights on a target that would provide no tactical advantage?

Percian cleared his throat. “Your Majesty, we must retaliate. The elves have broken the Treaty. This means war.”

As Alrick stepped forward to stand before the King, Percian leveled him with a glare. “It would not be wise to jump to conclusions so quickly, Captain.”

The captain’s voice dropped an octave, his upper lip pulling back in a sneer. “You know as well as I do that-”

“Do not presume to tell me what I know.” Alrick felt his temper spike and fought to hold it at bay. “Do not forget your position, Captain, nor who put you there. Your responsibility is to the safety of the city. Not the kingdom. That is my duty.” Percian’s face darkened as Alrick held his glare until the captain dropped his gaze and moved to stand against the wall, his posture stiff.

Alrick turned back to his King, who had watched the exchange with mild amusement. The contempt between the two officers was well-known.

“My Liege, it would be unwise to jump to conclusions.”

King Raedan raised a single brow. “Are you advising me, Commander? Last I checked, you were not the royal advisor.” Percian snorted from his place along the wall.

“No, My Liege. I would never assume to act above my station. However, the safety of my King and his kingdom is at the forefront of my duty. Declaring war without evidence or a formal deposition from the elves would endanger this kingdom.”

King Raedan leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table, and his fingers steepled as he lapsed into thought. The tattered priest shuffled in place, clearly uncomfortable. Alrick considered requesting the older man be removed from the study, but Percian spoke before he could voice the request.

“Perhaps, your Majesty, we could ask the witness what transpired in Ravika,” Percian said. Other than waiving his hand to allow the priest to speak, Raedan remained in contemplation. The aged man wrung his hands together and stepped forward.

“They attacked in the middle of the night, Your Majesty. The screams were what woke my brothers and me. Before we understood what was going on, houses were ablaze. We thought a fire had broken out, so we tried to get to the town’s center to pull water from the well. That’s when we noticed…” The priest paused to swallow. “The bodies. They lined the streets as the attackers slaughtered everyone. It all happened too fast… I’m ashamed to admit that I panicked and hid in the storehouse’s cellar with the door barred until long after the screaming had stopped. My cowardice is the only reason I lived while everyone else…” He dropped his gaze to the floor, his arms slack at his sides.

Percian approached the priest and rested a hand on his shoulder. “You did well, Brother. If you hadn’t hidden, we would not know what had happened. Did you see who attacked?”

“Yes. They were elves.” Percian nodded in grim acceptance.

“What did they look like?” Alrick interrupted.

The priest turned to him in surprise. “Excuse me, Sir?”

“The elves. What did they look like?”

“They looked like… well, like elves, Sir. Tall with pointed ears.”

The description was expected. Since the Treaty between the two peoples was established five hundred years ago, sightings of the mysterious elves were few and far between, as they rarely left the safety of their forested kingdom of Elindale. The common description for the mysterious people was that they were taller than average with ears that ended in a high point.

“Have you seen elves before this attack?”

“N… no, Sir.”

“When did you see that it was elves who attacked?”

“When I was hiding.”

“In the storehouse cellar with the door barred?” The priest’s mouth snapped shut as the blood drained from his face.

Percian pushed past the priest to face Alrick head-on. “What exactly are you insinuating, Commander?”

“That is enough.” The King said as he stood and turned to face the wall of windows. “I have much to consider. You are all dismissed.”

Shooting Alrick one last glare, Percian led the priest from the room. The Paladin bowed to King Raedan before taking his leave. He wasn’t sure why, but he was convinced the priest had lied, in part or whole. The more he considered the story, the more questions he had.

In the following month, three similar meetings took place, each time including other high-ranking officials. Alrick argued vehemently against declaring war but stood alone in his dissent. As word of the attack on Ravika spread amongst the public, the call for war echoed in the streets, with chants of “Justice for Ravika” heard in every corner of the city.

Thirty-five days following the attack, the King of Thalean declared war on Elindale. Two messengers were sent to deliver the message to Elindale’s capital. They never returned.


Dust rose from the trail as the supply caravan slowly approached the border. Alrick’s fists clenched the reigns of Alsterion, his destrier war horse. Despite the difference in species, the horse was his oldest and most trusted companion, having carried him both into and out of multiple battles. For reasons he couldn’t begin to fathom, he had received orders to escort a small supply caravan from the capital to the war front. Alrick suspected the task was his punishment for his outspoken opinions against the war.

Shouts from the caravan broke Alrick from his thoughts. He and the four soldiers who accompanied him drew their swords and turned, searching for the threat. Panic overtook the caravan, and the fifty civilians pulling oxen and donkeys pushed forward. Scanning the horizon, Alrick froze. Atop a sloping hill to the east stood a line of tall figures sitting upon massive stag mounts. Elves.

As the civilians panicked and sprinted toward the distant war front, Alrick and his men moved to form a protective line between the elves and the civilians. The group was comprised of ten elves, who watched the convoy with uncanny stillness.

One of the stag-mounted elves turned to his companions and said something Alrick couldn’t hear. Seven elves turned and urged their mounts off in a sprint, following the panicked caravan. Alrick cursed and shouted for his soldiers to follow and protect the caravan.

All four men spurred their mounts to follow his order. Alrick remained with his sword drawn. As the last of the caravan passed behind him, the elves charged.

As they neared, Alrick shifted his grip on his sword, bracing for contact. However, the elves pulled no weapons free. Once they were closer, Alrick noticed they wore nothing more than light leather armor. No bows were strung over their backs, nor could he see any swords or knives. They were unarmed.

Alrick resisted the urge to charge as his goddess, Havela, did not condone the slaughter of unarmed adversaries. Just before the elves reached him, they pivoted and circled him, their mounts creating a cloud of dust as they trotted in a wide circle with Alrick at the center. Alsterion began nickering and prancing in place.

All at once, massive roots erupted from the ground. Alsterion reared, throwing his rider from the saddle. The impact of hitting the ground while in full armor knocked all air from Alrick’s lungs. As stars swam in his vision and he struggled to breathe, the roots surrounded him, pinning his arms to his torso and his legs together.

The circling elves laughed and taunted him in a strange language. While he struggled helplessly on the ground, Alsterion aggressively circled the Paladin, putting himself between the downed man and any enemy that came too close. Ears flat to his head, he kicked and bit at the elves and their mounts.

One of the elves approached the enraged horse and jumped gracefully down from his stag. Hands outstretched in a placating manner, he approached Alsterion with soft words. To Alrick's surprise and horror, the horse settled. He snorted angrily once before sniffing the elf’s hands and accepting neck scratches. Alrick felt betrayed as Alsterion allowed the tall elf to approach his captive.

“Calm yourself, Paladin. You will not die just yet. Queen Serephine requests your presence.”


After countless hours of struggling, Alrick gave up trying to free himself from the roots that still confined him. The elves had secured him atop Alsterion, who followed docile behind the three elves.

Two hours into their trek, the rest of the scouting party silently joined them as they passed the border into the forest. Alrick scanned every one of them for hints or clues as to the outcome of the caravan. There were no traces of blood or any signs of a struggle.

As night descended, they finally arrived at Elindale, the capital of the elven kingdom. There was no sign of deforestation to make room for walls or buildings. Instead, the elves made their homes in and around the massive trees. Homes were created within hollowed trunks, hung between branches, and built everywhere between. Instead of paved or cobblestone roads, smooth, dirt paths crisscrossed the forest floor. Despite the proximity of each house and tree, the city seemed open, even as individuals milled about. As Alrick and his captors made their way down an extensive path, every elf who witnessed their passing paused to watch with a mix of curiosity and open hostility.

Deep into the city, the party stopped and dismounted before the largest oak Alrick had ever seen. The tree's base alone could comfortably house one hundred people within its borders. Round, glassless windows dotted along the trunk, disappearing into the canopy.

Alrick’s inspection of the tree halted as he was removed from his saddle. The roots receded from his legs but remained fixed around his chest and arms. He was led through a complex network of hallways within the structure before emerging into what Alrick assumed was the tree's center. The open space spanned over a hundred feet high. Hundreds of elves of varying ages lined the walkways, circling the room at varying levels.

A female elf sat at the center of the space upon a large throne of woken bark. Queen Serephine. Her aged face betrayed no emotion, yet her startling violet eyes speared through him with such intensity that Alrick fought the urge to lower his gaze. Silence descended on the room, all eyes upon the spectacle below.

“Sir Alrick, Paladin Commander.” Her voice echoed in the space, projecting authority. Alrick stared, dumbfounded. “Yes, I have heard of you. You are in command of your kingdom’s military force, correct?”

“Yes.” He belatedly added, “Your Majesty.”

“If this is true, then it is by your order that human soldiers gather to attack my borders.”

“I did not give that order.” One of her delicate eyebrows rose. “The order to attack came directly from King Raedan. Initially, I opposed the war.” His opinion had changed the moment he saw the elven scouting party split to give chase to the caravan.

The Queen’s eyes narrowed. “And what reason does your king give for violating the Treaty by threatening my kingdom with war?”

“The Treaty was annulled the moment your people attacked.”

A cacophony of voices erupted from the spectating elves. Serephine called for silence by lifting her hand.

“There have been no attacks on your people. At least not from elves. You humans seem to thrive on battling and killing each other.” Her thin upper lip pulled back in disgust. “But I know of which attack you speak of. It was not elves who attacked your small village, but humans.”

Alrick’s features hardened while he struggled to formulate a response. He was convinced she was lying but unsure how to express it without execution.

“You do not believe me,” The Queen stated. “Very well, then. If it is proof that you desire…”

The Queen raised her hand again, motioning toward a female standing several feet behind the wooden throne. The female nodded before disappearing down one of the many hallways. Two males accompanied her when she returned, carrying a large, flat crystal slab between them. They placed the crystal before the Queen.

Alrick watched with fascination as colors bled into the crystal from the edges. They met in the center and swirled until a form began to take shape, eventually solidifying into King Raedan. The image showed the King in his study, gazing out one of the many windows.

“Raedan,” Serephine called. The King turned, looking directly at them.

“Serephine,” He sneered. “I forgot this damned thing was here. It has been quite some time since you last spied on me.”

“What is the reason for the masses of soldiers gathering at my border?” 

“I know you are old, Serephine, but surely not so much so that you cannot recognize an army when you see one.”

“What of our Treaty?”

“Haven’t you heard? You voided the Treaty when you attacked Ravika.”

“I had nothing to do with that attack, as you well know.”

“Yes, well, that doesn’t matter. My kingdom believes the elves struck the first blow, destroying a village that could not defend itself.”

Alrick finally found his voice, though it trembled with fury. “The elves did not attack Ravika?”

Surprise flickered across Raedan’s face as he turned his attention to Alrick for the first time. “No, they didn’t. I knew you’d never agree to war, and as the Commander of my forces, I had hoped to have your support. I even paid some beggar to dress as a priest of Havela, sure that the word of a devout would be enough. It seems I misjudged your devotion.”

The King and Queen continued to talk, but their words did not reach Alrick as all sounds faded to a dull roar.

March 16, 2024 03:50

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1 comment

15:01 Mar 17, 2024

I like how the first sentence is basically the last sentence. And I'm impressed by how much world and story is place in so few words. I could see it all.


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