Nightfall

Disclaimer: I stole the title from Robin. The characters and places all belong to Dave Duncan.


He sat at his desk, sheets of parchment spread in front of him. The late afternoon sunlight filtered in through the window from across the moor. He sighed and tore his eyes away from the mostly barren landscape. However lackluster Starkmoor was, he had called it home for many years now.

He looked down at the mess in front of him. There were five letters there. One to each of his children, one to his oldest friend, Sir Snake, one to the current residents of Ironhall, and one to the King. He picked up his pen and signed the one to the King, folding it and sealing it quickly, placing it to the corner. He did the same for the one to the candidates and knights.

He simply stared at the last three for a few more minutes. Of all the people he had once known that were still alive, they were the three that meant the most to him. His son, whom he had not even known existed until he was already almost five years old. His daughter, the most beautiful girl in all the world, so much like her mother, yet with her father's adventurous streak. And Sir Snake, a faithful friend who he hadn't seen in some time—the old rascal had taken to traveling, visiting old friends and making new ones.

Durendal sighed. He knew he was old. He had a litter of grandchildren, and a handful of great-grandchildren, with more on the way. He had lived a long and meaningful life, serving his King and country as best he could. But he was tired, and his life at Ironhall was coming to an end. He laughed to himself. Ironhall was where his life had begun, and he was not sad that it would end there as well.

But his time had come. The Order would need to elect a new Grand Master. He knew he would not wake in the morning. The thought did not much bother him. He was ready to leave this world, to meet up with his wife—oh Kate! Have a chance to make amends with his mentor, Montpurse—how that memory still ached. And maybe he could see his old friend King Ambrose again. He smiled at the thought.

For now though, he would finish his letters. Anything he had at Ironhall would be left for the next Grand Master. All his other possessions had already been bequeathed to his children. And his sword, his precious Harvest who had hardly left his side in sixty years, would hang from the sky of swords with her sisters.

A single tear escaped his eye as he sealed the three letters. He knew someone would make sure they were delivered to whom they were addressed. He made his way silently down to the feast. This would be the last year he would have to remind the candidates that this night was not his night—Durendal Night was to honor the first Durendal, the man who had created the Blades, hundreds of years ago. Every year it had brought a small smile to his face that they respected him so much though. If only they knew the truth about me, he couldn't help but think.

Blades and knights always gathered on this night to celebrate their heritage. The only other time Ironhall was more rambunctious was after a binding. But Durendal Night had always been exciting—even when the speeches weren't.

The Litany was read, as usual. Durendal had selected which entries were to be read that night. No one had questioned him. He had made sure that none of his own were, as was wont to do on more occasions than he felt necessary. But Wolfbiter was mentioned, as was Quarrel. His heart ached, and he closed his eyes for a moment, anticipating the moment he would see them again.

A hand was placed on his shoulder, and he rose to make his speech. His eyes swept across the eager youngsters, the knights sitting around him, and finally, of the fading sunlight sparkling off of the swords hanging above him.

"As time passes, we all tend to forget that once upon a time, we were all the Brat, that young boy looking to escape his past by becoming one of the King's Blades. Even I was the Brat once, many years ago. But there is a reason we all start out the same. It teaches us humility. It teaches us that sometimes life isn't easy, but if you hang tough, you can make it. In a way, we will always be that little boy we first were when we came here. It takes time to remember to stick up for yourself. There will always be someone bullying you, but you have to remember that someday, things will be different. That is probably the most important lesson you must learn at Ironhall. Not to wield a sword, not anything about politics or law, or even to read and write. We must learn that all things will end eventually, and if you believe in yourself, you'll make it through, and you'll be rewarded afterwards.

"How many of you remember how horrible it was to be the Brat? Yet none of you gave up. Maybe you were clinging to the thought of having nowhere else to go. Maybe being a Blade had always been your dream. Or maybe you just held onto something as simple as finally being able to make a decision for yourself.

"I don't know about some of you, but I know the choice Grand Master gave me all those years ago was the first choice I had ever been given. Stay and become a Blade, or say no, go back with my grandfather, and never amount to anything? I think it's obvious what my choice was." Laughter. He smiled. He was holding their attention, either by his story or just by his reputation. It didn't really matter any more.

"You call me Paragon. I don't think I will ever understand why. I am nothing more than any one of you could ever be. We are all equal, because we have all come from the same beginning. Chance decides what will happen to us along our way, but it doesn't change who we are." Weary sigh.

"I'm sure you must be wondering what an old man like me is going on about. We all choose a name for ourselves when we come to this place that so many have called home—and never doubt that Ironhall is your home, her doors are always open. But we must live up to our names. If your name is Warrior, then you had better be a warrior. When I chose the name Durendal, I was told that I had better live up to it. I do not feel that I have, because how could I do anything near as amazing as what he did by creating a place like this? I would not even be here if not for him." He was starting to tire, but he wasn't finished. Some of the older knights that he had known for years had tears in their eyes. He suspected that they had figured out the truth.

"I want to leave you all with one last thing tonight. Many years ago King Ambrose told me something. If your past had any future in this world, you would never have been brought to Ironhall. A Blade has pride, status, and above all a sense of purpose. He matters. His life matters. His death may matter even more. Always remember that." Finished, and he sat down. The candidates all clapped. They looked so young. Durendal could remember the day each and every one of them had arrived, knew their names, knew that every single one of them would succeed in whatever they ended up doing with their lives.

Sir Bandit, who had come for the festivities, placed a hand on Durendal's shoulder. He smiled at the younger man. If he wasn't careful, they would rope him into being the next Grand Master. Durendal didn't mention this to him. Bandit would take care of the children if he was asked.

As the last rays of sunlight faded, Durendal stood and left the great hall, climbing the stairs to his room wearily. It was time. He would not pretend any longer. He changed into his nightclothes and climbed into his bed, Harvest ever at his side. True, she was not the same sword that had first been thrust through his heart by the foppish Nutting, but she was still his. He closed his eyes, his arms wrapped around the cold metal, a small smile on his face.

His breathing became more and more shallow as night fell over Starkmoor. A gentle wisp of wind drifted through the open window and dried the tear from the corner of the late Sir Durendal's eye.


A/N: This by far is probably one of the best things I've ever written. I hope you all enjoyed it, and please take the time to leave a review.