“My Lord, the main gate has fallen. We’re taking heavy casualties, so we expect they’ll be here soon.”
If the messenger’s anguished tones hadn’t clued King Konrad into the desperation of the situation, the blood pouring down the side of his face and his desperate expression did.
“Very well,” said Konrad. “Pull everyone back to the courtyard. If we can defend the keep, we may still have a chance of making it out of this alive. Remember, we still have the secret entrance if all else fails.”
He glanced over at a tall tapestry near the back of the atrium, where the secret entrance led down to the catacombs beneath the city and outside from there. But he hoped that he wouldn’t have to resort to that.
He looked over the atrium, where his bodyguard sat scattered around, sharpening swords and waiting for either the battle to come to them, or for their lord to send them to the battle. There was Luther, sharpening his heavy battle ax. Johann sat nearby, looking as though he were sleeping, his spear resting against the wall. Ulrich and Anton spoke in whispers near the back of the atrium. Konrad frowned. There were four of the five of his best men, but where was Gustaf, the fifth?
Another messenger came hurtling into the room and collapsed as he reached toward the king. A crossbow bolt protruded from his back.
“My Lord, they’ve breached the courtyard. We won’t hold out for long. And they have…archers…on the walls….”
“What?” exclaimed Konrad, bending down to the messenger. Around, his bodyguard stiffed warily. “On the walls? What do you mean? How could they have soldiers on the walls by now?”
There was a series of noises and sounds of movement from behind Konrad. He stood and swung around, only to see the tapestry hiding the secret exit cut vertically through the center. A battalion of soldiers bearing the red of Konrad’s enemy emerged from the doorway, followed by none other than Gustaf.
“Gustaf, what—what is the meaning of this?” demanded Konrad as his bodyguard positioned themselves defensively around him, drawing their weapons.
“I switched sides,” replied Gustaf.
“I wanted power.” The traitor shrugged and turned to the soldiers he had led into the atrium. “Kill them.”
A hail of crossbow bolts flew at the bodyguard, cutting down a number of them instantly. The bodyguard charged at the red-garbed soldiers. But as they engaged in battle, Konrad turned at the sound of clattering boots to see the enemy soldiers breaking into the atrium. They were surrounded.
Luther swung his ax through three foes at once before a spear pierced his back. Johann stabbed one, only for two to grab him by the shoulders and thrust their swords through his gut. Ulrich and Anton fell under the second volley of crossbow bolts. Others quickly drowned underneath the sea of red soldiers that flooded the atrium.
Consumed with rage, Konrad thrust his sword through the nearest soldier, taking the man’s spear. Turning toward Gustaf, he threw the spear straight into the traitor’s chest, just before three soldiers thrust their spears into the king’s back.