The Shattered Ring
The Hundred Halls
In the chill night breeze Gaerht stood at the rail of the bridge, gazing out into the valley, and pulled his thick woollen robe tighter about him. The cold got to him now, dug through clothes and flesh and into his tired bones. Normally, a tumbler of warm, sweet wine would be to hand for warmth, but not tonight. Tonight he would simply endure the chill for the peace of the bridge. To look out upon the valley.
In all his eighty-three years, through all he had achieved, the valley he had left untouched. The legacy of his father, from whom he inherited the lordship of Wydrest Hall. Perfect beneath the crystalline stars. Beneath the old stones of the bridge on which Gaerht stood water cascaded down the side of the valley, roaring hundreds of feet into the gully beside which the Hall had been built to join the river in the valley far below. How could one improve upon perfection? Gaerht looked to the right, where thirty feet below the broad terrace lay to the side of the churning waters in the gully, and remembered other nights he had stood upon the bridge, watching over the years as first his sons and then his grand-daughter practiced swordplay on the ancient paving beneath. That was his contribution. Their childish laughter and earnest efforts had brought peace to his heart and joy to the valley. Gone, now. Spirited away to safety in secret. Gaerht looked down into the foaming waters, and wondered if Aln had done as he was ordered.
From the corner of his eye, Gaerht saw the shadow slither over the edge of the terrace below, and then another, and another. They had come, then, as expected. Silent as the breeze. Wydrest was too strong, too influential to attack directly, or to be shamed into withdrawal. So, they would come like thieves in the night and bring the fight to him in his own hall. Cowards. Who, though? No matter. There would be time for questions later.
Gaerht looked out into the night sky once more, drinking in the perfection one more time. Perfection now marred by the interlopers on the terrace. No, what he would offer would not be a new tree, a new fountain, a new sculpture. He would offer the heads of the enemy, and a statement of Wydrest’s power, for the sake of his grandchildren, that the perfect valley might lie at peace once more.
Gaerht shrugged out of his robe, letting it fall to the bridge around his feet. His armour glittered faintly as the light fell upon it, and Gaerht hefted the weight of the propulsion-pack to settle it on his shoulders. His years were catching up on him. He pulled his pistol from the holster, crafter Taln’s best work, feeling the warmth of the charging-pack even through the gauntlet. The last time I do this, thought Gaerht.
Below, the shadows were creeping along beside the railing. Aln had best be ready or this would be short indeed. Gaehrt placed a hand on the rail of the bridge and hauled himself up.
And then, a last glance down into the swirling waters. The roar of the propulsion-pack. The searing heat of the thrusters. A shout from below. Gaerht bellowed his defiance and stepped out into space.