Disclaimer: I do not own The King's Blades; Dave Duncan is the wonderful author who brought them to life. I make no profit from my stories, but they sure are fun to write. This story takes place throughout The Gilded Chain, but also includes elements of Sky of Swords at the end. You have been warned.
"Then the King rode through the breach directly behind the vanguard with his Blades around him. Four were killed, a dozen wounded, but they gave more than they took. Harvest alone avenged the four, and the legend of the second Durendal crept a little closer to the legend of the first." The Gilded Chain, page 111
A Tale of the King's Blades
He is the best of the best and knows it, even without involving his ego. Back in the beginning, Montpurse had beaten him regularly, but now even Leader can't hold a candle to him. He's won the King's Cup three times, never having lost since he took the title from Montpurse (except for the third year the Cup was held, when Chef won by default because Durendal was an unholy mess, enroute to Ironhall for Reversion and his second binding). Conceivably, he's the best fencer in the world.
These are the good days, when the Guard is full of Blades who are legends in their own time, men he's proud to fight beside and challenged to best. Blades with names like Hoare, Chefney, Quinn, and Demise, who will be remembered by generations to come and have already left their mark on the Order. Every now and then, he looks down at his livery in shock and wonders who he is to be the Deputy Commander of such a Guard. After all, he's only been bound to the King for two years, and he's been Deputy since after only one. But he's the best, and no one begrudges him the job.
Once they go to war, however, fencing skill means very little, and Durendal demonstrates tactical acumen in addition to mere fighting ability. He's caught off guard once—they all are—that day at Waterby, but from that point forward, he gets the job done. And when that crucial moment comes, thundering through the breach, it is Durendal who makes the call that hauls back the entire vanguard, saving a score of men from a trap the rebels carefully set in their path. Kirkwain falls that day, and the King praises him before the entire army. Odd how they talk about the incident at Waterby more often than that, because it's the second one that Durendal is most proud of.
He and Montpurse speak quietly about it afterwards, sharing things that neither can share with the others. It's not that they don't trust the Guard—because they do—but Leader and Deputy are both forced to be a tiny step apart from the others. That, and they became friends before they were bound to the same ward, friends enough that Montpurse risked everything in trying to save Durendal's life. He's never asked, and Leader's never said, but he's certain that it was Montpurse who suggested the King try a second binding on him, precedent be damned.
"If you're not careful, you're going to wind up remembered as the only Durendal," his friend says lightly, his ever-youthful face smiling easily.
Durendal laughs. "Only because you let me take the lead so often."
"Let? Brother, it's all I can do to keep up."
He thinks Montpurse is joking, and his friend allows Durendal to change the subject. Later, Montpurse thanks him for the timely call, for trusting instinct enough to pull an entire army back, saving their ward's life and countless others. Durendal admits to feeling slightly hesitant to make the call, knowing that it wasn't his place to do so. Montpurse, for some reason, seems shocked that he had time to think and hesitate before acting, but Durendal assumes that everyone else saw what he did and he simply spoke first.
The King awards him some star or another, but Durendal forgets about it within a few days. There's still a war on, after all, and he's much more concerned with protecting his ward than wearing some bauble or another. Of course, the careless stuffing away of said bauble in his pack earns him a yelling at.
"Your uniform appears to be missing something, Deputy," the King growls one morning. Durendal isn't surprised that he noticed—not much gets past Ambrose, as stupid as he likes to play at being—but he is startled by the comment.
"The White Star, Sir Durendal," Ambrose grates out. "The one we awarded you two days ago."
He thinks fast. "I thought it best not to lose it on campaign, Sire, and put it in a safe place."
Durendal, by now, is renowned for thinking quickly, but Ambrose is hardly fooled by the pat answer. He usually isn't.
"And are you ungrateful for the honors we have bestowed upon you, Lord Roland?"
"No, Sire!" Not many men can throw him off balance, but the King has always possessed that talent. And he'd almost forgotten about the barony already. "I just—"
He never gets the chance to finish.
"Do you have any idea how many Blades have been admitted to the Order of the White Star?"
"Ah, no, Sire."
Royal gloat. "Less than twenty."
Despite himself, he's struck speechless. The four-pointed star means a bit more to him, now, if only because it means that the King really did appreciate his actions and wanted to show him that. He's touched, even if Ambrose is smirking something wondrous.
"We trust you won't lose future awards?"
He never lost any of them, of course. Just stuffed them in a drawer and forgot about them.
Durendal is a heavy favorite for the King's Cup that year, almost not worth betting on—or so the Guard complains. He's more concerned with Isolde, who had seemed to be the love of a lifetime before he left for Nythia. Upon return, he finds her ready to marry another. Durendal finds that heartbreak is survivable, and moves on with his life.
He wins the Cup, though and he's yet to figure out that he's something special, something aside from the product of years of hard work. He has worked hard, determined from his first day as a candidate to earn the name of Durendal. And earn it he has. But he still doesn't understand when Grand Master tells him that the candidates think Durendal Night is named for him.
And then Wolfbiter slaps his hands down on his thighs before shouting "Do it now!" and he begins to understand.
Skip forward almost six years to when he's older, wiser, and not quite the same. He's Leader, now, and has been for two months, yet still the lads stare at him as if he's a hero out of someone's favorite fairy tale.
Montpurse, now Chancellor, laughs when he asks and says: "You're a legend, brother. Get used to it."
"I was gone for five years!"
"Doesn't matter. You're still larger than life. All they want to be is you."
Somehow, he'd managed to forget the living-in-a-fishbowl feeling while he'd been on the other side of the world. Durendal had never realized how nice it was to be anonymous until he was no longer.
He is in the Litany already. No one had mentioned that to him before he left, but somehow he'd worked his way in due to that incident at Waterby. Not for the first time, Durendal has to chuckle over what events people, even Blades, cling to. The lads slowly get used to his presence, and by the time the first year has passed, they've forgotten that their Commander is a legend of sorts. They know him as Durendal, and the trust they have in him honors him on a daily basis.
He goes everywhere with the King, only avoiding Ironhall because he can't quite bear to go back without thinking of Wolfbiter—and to think of Wolfbiter is to awaken the urge to kill Kromman, promises notwithstanding. But he buries that need because serving his King requires it, and Durendal knows that doing so is the right thing to do. The loss still burns, even as the years sweep by, but the pain dulls a bit. The kicker of it is that he can't even tell the one man who would provide the most understanding, but he's sure that Montpurse has read between the lines of what little Durendal has told him. And the Chancellor never whispers a word of what he does or does not know, even to the younger Blades who were Wolf's classmates. Montpurse understands what that would do, and his loyalty also demands that he bury one of the Order's most painful secrets. Any one of them would kill someone who had murdered a brother, but it can't be allowed.
They grow close again, perhaps closer than ever before. When Durendal is not with the King or his family, he is Montpurse's sounding board. They laugh together and conspire together, and when Ambrose plunges into grief following Queen Haralda's death, Durendal helps his old friend (quietly and behind the scenes) run the country until they can haul the King out of his misery. He learns politics and learns to respect the game, even if it never does grow on him the way others claim it should.
Days of urging, wheedling, and pleading pass before they can even get him out of bed—never mind the months before that when he refused to see even Montpurse. Leader and Chancellor alike go down on their knees repeatedly, offering anything if only the King will move. It is a chance comment of Durendal's that finally gets the fat man going again, and though he's screamed at and the King threatens to chop off his head, it's worth it. Slowly, Ambrose comes out of his shell.
Later, the two share a quiet glass of wine (one being Durendal's limit), and exhibit the relief neither can afford to show in front of others.
"I don't know what I would have done without you these past months," Montpurse admits quietly.
"I often felt like I was more in the way than helping."
"You weren't. At least not always, and not at all after the first few weeks. You've always learned fast, brother."
Durendal smiles and tries to shrug the compliment away. "I've always had a good teacher."
"Ha! I trust you're talking about someone other than me? Chefney, perhaps?" His old mentor grins.
"Seriously. Thank you for helping me with…everything. I don't know what I would have done if he stayed like that. Or what my binding would have done," Durendal says softly.
"Me neither." Montpurse is quiet for a long moment, and there are shadows in his eyes that weren't there when Durendal first met him. But he smiles again. "Well, we always have been a good team, haven't we?"
"I'll drink to that." Durendal toasts his friend and they clink glasses together. "May it always be so."
Not so many years later, he delivers Montpurse's death warrant to the King, and the King signs it. Neither of them is ever quite the same.
In becoming Chancellor, Durendal inadvertently starts the Monster War. He watches friends die and wonders constantly if he did the right thing in suggesting it, but Ambrose refuses to shrink away in fear. So, too, does Durendal, and as they learn to work as a team they hammer away at the enemy.
The crowning moment of his tenure of chancellor, however, does not come from the honors the King heaps upon him or others. It is that first audience, when Ambrose gives Durendal back the one thing that really matters, and suddenly Durendal is the only man in the kingdom allowed to wear a sword in the King's presence without being bound. Wearing Harvest saves his life more than once, and he desperately tries to ignore the worshipful looks the Guard gives him when he kills a chimera by himself. By now, he's half used to the way they look at him, and he's aware of the fact that he's still their role model, even though he's no longer bound.
And he definitely ignores the horrible ache he feels inside every time one of the lads accidentally calls him "Leader." Durendal pretends not to hear, but he's too touched to correct them.
He and Bandit share a laugh over it, once Bandit forgives him for recommending him as Leader. Rock solid and utterly unflappable, Bandit is exactly what Ambrose needs to counteract his flamboyant and risk-taking Chancellor. They counter one another perfectly, and the King loves to pit Durendal's gambling against Bandit's pragmatic protectiveness. Between those two and Snake, Durendal stays sane. But wearing a cat's eye sword isn't the same without Montpurse, who was the first Blade that a certain dark-haired brat watched bound, and had been there from that very first night he was bound to the Marquis.
They don't speak often of the previous Chancellor, even when he's with the Old Blades. Officially, the charge was treason. It seems pointless to argue now.
Still, they laugh sometimes, even in the midst of danger. And there are triumphs—too many to count, truth be told. The Old Blades and the Royal Guard battle side by side, once, on a hunt that was designed to draw the enemy out.
And draw the chimeras out they do. Durendal builds himself another legend that day, and the Guard celebrates almost as riotously as they did following the Night of Dogs. For a few hours, he's one of their own again, and even if the younger Blades stare at him a bit too wondrously, he's still Durendal and not Lord Roland. Just for a few hours.
Later, Snake tells him that he's getting old, and Durendal fences him into the ground as payment for such a grievous insult. The Guard watches in awe, and Snake in private chides Durendal for being embarrassed.
"You and I know better, but they're still dreamers," the chief of the Old Blades says quietly, for once not twirling his fancy moustache. "Even after watching friends die, they still believe that there's honor, glory, and all that in this line of work."
"And all that," Durendal muses. "I still believe in most of that."
Snake chuckles. "And that's why they admire you so much. Because somehow you haven't gotten as corrupted and as jaded as the rest of us. You still believe that we do this for a reason."
"So do you," he shoots back.
"It's not the same, brother. Not the same at all."
Still, Snake is one of the best friends a man can have, and Durendal is grateful for the time they spend conspiring together, plotting and intriguing. He contemplates recommending Snake as his successor when the inevitable day comes—as it must. For the moment, however, he is not too worried about it. He will serve his King as best he can, and every Blade expects their ward to outlive them. Durendal was no exception.
Then the world falls apart less than a year after he becomes Chancellor. Durendal does the King's bidding and arranges a marriage and a treaty with Baelmark, a feat he thinks well nigh impossible until he pulls it off. The Princess chooses Wetshore for her wedding, and no one thinks of the dangers, least of all a man one year removed from being Commander of the Royal Guard.
He hardly has time to think when the crossbow bolt strikes down his former ward, doesn't dare to. Durendal only rockets into motion, hearing the screaming of bereaved Blades and knowing that the earth has dropped out from under him. He can't think of more, must act, first for the Princess and then for the heir. The new king. King Ambrose V, who is too young to understand and is already in danger.
The first steps are taken care of; thankfully, the Household Yeomen respond to his commands. Blades and court alike swear loyalty, but there are too many friends lying dead at Wetshore. Ridden down by lancers if they couldn't be brought to their senses and hadn't killed one another already, sixty-two brother Blades are gone in the blink of an eye. The Guard is crippled. The Order is dealt what might very well be a death blow by a man who had once been one of their own. And the King is dead with them.
The King is dead.
Numbly, he paces his office those first nights, too brokenhearted to even accept Kate's comfort. He can't face her or the children. Not then. Not with so much work to do and a country to do his best to save. Not with the Blades staring at him as if he has the answers, because he is it, now, all they had to look to.
He is certain that he'll break down at the funeral.
"You're a legend, brother. Get used to it." Montpurse's blue eyes looking sadly out at him from the past. "…You're still larger than life. All they want to be is you."
He takes a deep breath and straightens the black cloak he wears over his scarlet robes. Harvest is by his side, but Durendal takes a moment to ensure she is hanging just right.
When he steps out of his office, it is with his head held high. He knows what he is, and knows the Blades will be watching. They need strength, and he would do what had to be done.
No matter what the cost.
"All they want to be is you."
Thank you very much for reading, and please let me know what you think!