Black smoke wreathed the walls of the stone passage beneath the mage tower. The sound of fighting above was muffled here, but the shouts of the victorious and the cries of the wounded could still be heard.
Two men pushed through the thick air. The first was small and thin. A once neat beard had become ragged though neglect. Behind him came the knight. His battered armour had seen enough fighting. He stepped heavily, wearily forward. He heard the sounds of battle and stopped.
“We have to act,” insisted the small man. “The Lions are dying. You have to help them.”
“They are already lost. We are too few to make a difference. And we are betrayed.” The knight spat the last word out like poison.
“This is more than betrayal of your men. They have started a war!”
“No. They have ended one. They acted too quickly for us to see it coming. This field belongs to the politicians now. Our time is over. This day belongs to the Mages.”
“To one mage, perhaps. The others have been led astray.”
“He led but they followed. It is to the same end. We are lost.”
The small man turned on the knight with sudden anger.
“The kingdom will be lost if you do not act.”
“The kingdom is already lost. The king is already fled! What kingdom remains without a king?”
“You have to fight!”
“Not today, my friend.” The knight raised one heavy arm and pointed at the ceiling and the battle beyond. “I can do no more for them. Would that I could.”
“They are your men! Fight for your Pride if nothing else. You have a duty to lead them.”
“To lead the dead? It is too late for them. But not for us. Not if we run while we still can.”
The small man choked out a laugh, masking the heartbreak he felt for his friend.
“You? Run? They really have beaten you haven’t they?”
The knight gripped him by the shoulder and spoke earnestly, but there was strength left in those big hands. “We must run, my old friend. We must hide. War is not just for the young, not death for the old and this thing will be the death of us all.”
“If you give up this battle you give up this war.”
“We have lost the fight today.”
“Trust to hope. There is always hope!”
“There is not. Not today,” said the knight, and vanished into the smoke.