Far Horizons: Tales of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror. Issue #13 April 2015 - Page 166

in defending your lands, my company of men and I are yours to command.” Lord Elgin grasped the hilt of Sir Gwydion’s sword in acceptance. He clapped the knight on the shoulder, indicating he should rise with a casual wave of his hand. “Your father has always been a valuable ally, and more importantly, a trustworthy friend,” he said, smiling. The wrinkles around his eyes deepened. Gwydion followed the lord to the high-backed throne at the head of the board. “Our liege knights will be stationed around the castle by daybreak tomorrow.” “Excellent. But for now, my greatest concern is the safety of my daughter.” Rhiannon startled in her place in the shadow of the south door. The lord’s smile had faded, and now his eyebrows furrowed over penetrating blue eyes. “Who is with you?” “My three younger brothers and four other knights – loyal companions, milord.” Elgin nodded. His stare slipped to a tapestry depicting a sleeping dragon and he wearily rubbed his beard with the palm of his hand. “I’ll be damned before that murdering traitorous bastard has my lands without a fight. But I do not want Rhiannon at this castle as a target.” His gaze returned to the knight. “I am entrusting you with the safety of my precious daughter, my only heir. You will remove her from danger and guard her with your life.” “Yes, milord, upon my honor, I swear it.” Sir Gwydion bowed formally. “Your companions will stay here as added defense to my castle while we wait for your father. Lady Rhiannon.” Her father quite suddenly turned to her. She realized he had known she was there all along. She moved across the hall toward the men, the daylight shafts from the high windows gleaming along the burgundy brocade of her gown and shooting down the red strands in the twisted plaits of her red-gold hair. She was conscious of the heavy swish the stiff fabric made on the stone floor, and of the incredulous gaze of the knight before her. She kept her book against her bod- ice, her arms locked around it. Years had passed since Gwydion had last seen her. Rhiannon had changed greatly from the maiden who had shyly tied her embroidered favors around his arm in the tournaments; the years had not changed him as much. She stopped next to her father. The knight knelt in front of Rhiannon, offering his sword up with both hands in fealty to her. She stared at his bowed head, the black hair silky fine and shot with much gray, and was overtaken by the surprising urge to rake the long strands away from his forehead. Rhiannon was suddenly, irrationally grateful it was not one of her young suitors charged with her protection, but this seasoned knight who used to patiently and kindly humor a little girl playing at being a great lady. But here, now, she did not see the shadow of the exalted champion who almost always won the jousts; she observed the