Avalon City

Zarian peeked in at the sleeping form of his daughter. The light from the fireplace gently illuminated her beautiful features. She was breathing easily. It was a chilly night and he was glad to see the extra blankets wrapped around her. She was nearing seventeen now. Marriage would not wait much longer for her, he thought sadly. Seemed only yesterday her mother would sit by the window and sing her lullabies. She could have any of the gentlemen from the Court but she had shown no preference thus far.

Zarian had given up much to give her such a life. The wealth they lived with was not their own of course. He was the King of Avalon's chief advisor and the only Master Wizard in the castle. He was charged with the protection and instruction of all of Avalon. Laureli was growing up in the Court of Avalon, which meant she would be able to marry into wealth if she so chose. She had all the schooling that he could manage. She was as beautiful as she was intelligent, and powerful. Her hair being white as snow told him so. Every truly powerful wizard in his family had the snow white locks, including himself.

There was a rap at the door to their suite. Zarian carefully pulled the door closed not noticing that the latch did not catch. He crossed the room to the door that was being addressed so urgently.

"Zarian," the king strode in purposefully with a parchment in his hand. "Two dispatch riders from Castle Sauvage just arrived. The news they bring is grim. One hundred and fifty ships from Midgard landed off shore from Caer Benowyc. One hundred and fifty!"

He paced a few moments in front of the table in the center of the room. "They've asked me to send reinforcements. Any men I can spare"

"My Lord," Zarian began carefully. "The Albion Army believes theirs is the only cause that matters right now. They have plenty of men. Their pleas are not for defense but for offense. They want to have the men to raid Midgard and Hibernia as well. Riches for the generals and death for the soldiers. We have sent them enough of our soldiers. If we send more Avalon will be weak and easily overrun."

"What have we to be worried about?" His majesty replied. "Avalon is at peace and has been for hundreds of years. That which threatens Albion is also a threat to us."

"Yes but would Albion come to our aid if we were facing such peril?" Zarian removed a chair and sat quietly at the table looking the map that was painted on it in fine detail. "Would they send their army from Camelot to protect us?"

"Will they if we don't help them in their time of need?" King Liran stood pointedly across from his advisor. "Zarian, I know you have this kingdom's well-being in mind when you speak, but how can we ignore their pleas."

"It sounds as though you have your mind made up, M'Lord. Why come to me?" Zarian watched the firelight play across the face of his near and dear friend.

"You are my greatest of comrades, Zarian. I never do anything without speaking with you first."

"If you know what you are going to do then do it, but remember that wizard's fire alone cannot protect all of Avalon. My wizards will not be going with your ranks of men. We shall be all that remains to stand between whatever ill betides. Without your ranks of paladins and armsmen to protect us we would not be able to stand long should a serious foe attempt to bring us down."

Liran nodded grimly. "Your advice is sound as always but I am compelled to help Constantine and the army of Albion. I would go to help if I could, but as I cannot I will send Bragan. He is not my eldest but he is my best suited to such a task, impulsive and brash.." He paused briefly and looked intently at he trusted friend. "Zarian, will you remain at court when the army is gone?"

Zarian brought his hand to his heart in a gesture so common that only an outsider would notice. "Until my dying breath." he said quietly.

The King of Avalon nodded quietly and turned to leave. As the door shut behind him, his Advisor lowered his head to his hands and stared absently into the fireplace.

Neither of them had noticed the young lady watching silently from a small crack in her doorway.