Summary: "Montpurse was only glad that the youngsters never realized that the great Durendal had a hero of his own." Even heroes need someone to look up to, Durendal included.
Author's Notes: Written as a sort-of response to Robin's "Legend". Not as well polished as hers, and it's actually been a while since I read The Gilded Chain or Sky of Swords, so the sequence of some events might be a bit off (as in, when Montpurse became chancellor in relation to things with Sian, Bluefield, and Durendal's return from Samarinda).
Disclaimer: If I owned TKB, there'd be a map of Chivial and surrounding countries. Do you know how often I've wanted a map? And maybe a list of all the Blades, in chronological order, so we wouldn't have to keep guessing who was bound when (and to who), who was released at certain times, who got killed in this attack or that attack.... Alas, since I don't own TKB, I do without a map, and have pieced together a timeline and a list of seniority as best as possible with clues from the books. And yes, I do always know exactly where Stalwart is at any given point in time.
He'd been cocky; he was a Blade, so it was really only natural, but in the end, maybe he had been too confident in his own abilities. But despite all the reports he had received in those first two years of being commander of the Royal Guard, he hadn't been prepared for this. Especially not on the heels of what had happened that night in Thirdmoon to bring it about in the first place.
Commander Montpurse never had been able to say no to Ambrose, even when Montpurse was part of Prince Ambrose's small retinue of Blades. Perhaps it was why, when Ambrose inherited his father's Guard, he named Montpurse as commander. It had been an honor, of course, and one that Montpurse wouldn't have wanted to say no to anyway, but Ambrose had known he could bully him, and that was an important deciding factor.
Montpurse had tried to talk Ambrose out of deeding his latest mistress' fop of a brother a Blade, but Ambrose had been enchanted by her pretty face and her silver tongue, and he hadn't quite grown into the role of being monarch yet. To him, deeding Blades was still a game. And when the idiot showed up at court with someone who wasn't the mediocre Prime Candidate Harvest, Montpurse didn't have the heart to say 'I told you so' to the king.
In the end, it had probably been a favor to them all that Harvest had died on the block. Montpurse hated himself for thinking it, hated himself for saying it, but that didn't make it any less true; if Harvest had been bound to Tab Nillway, Durendal would have been bound to Jacques Polydin, and no one would ever have heard from him again. Instead, Durendal moped around court and Everman was destined for a doomed mission.
It took Montpurse a good deal longer to forgive this new upstart of a Blade than it did for Ambrose. Montpurse hated him, that first year; felt sorry for him, yes, but in one night, the kid had managed to make a fool of the entire Guard, and get Ambrose to stop fencing with them. Montpurse had been trying for years to do that. And even after Ambrose gave the kid that shiny little present, making it known that Durendal was favored, Montpurse still resented him; the courtiers never managed to put the pieces together, but it hadn't been for their benefit. It had been a gesture meant to be seen by the Order, since no one else would bother to look twice at a Blade.
It wasn't until Montpurse realized the kid hero-worshipped him that his attitude started to change. He remembered the upstart Brat that Durendal had been, never giving in to the older boys' demands and teasing. He'd even been the one to suggest that the juniors start calling him 'Durendal', if this annoying piece of gutter trash thought he was too good to grovel. He hadn't meant for it to stick.
But six years after being pegged with the name, Durendal was still making a name for himself, at least within the Guard. And Montpurse wasn't so blind that he couldn't see the way Durendal tried to emulate him. In equal parts it flattered and annoyed him, especially the days when Ambrose would do nothing but talk about the quickly rising star of the Order. And maybe, in some small way, Montpurse had been jealous.
By the time it became apparent that Durendal was being dragged through the worst kind of situation imaginable, Montpurse had somehow forgotten his venom and genuinely grown to like the younger Blade. He was smart, and clever, and good with a sword--enough to keep Montpurse on his toes and steal away the title of the King's Cup. Despite their age difference, Montpurse could even think of Durendal as a friend, something he didn't have many of within the Guard because of his status as Leader. But Durendal wasn't a subordinate, so Montpurse never felt the need to keep that subtle distance like he often did with the rest of the Blades at court.
It hit Montpurse hard seeing his friend so shattered and broken after the death of his ward, after the Reversion Ritual meant to set him free from that poisonous relationship. It had taken Ambrose three days to reach Ironhall, and during that time, Montpurse barely left Durendal's side. He had hoped his letter to the king begging him to do something, anything for this young man, would motivate Ambrose. It had been the first, and one of the only things that Montpurse had ever asked of his ward.
It had been a surprise to everyone, possibly even Ambrose himself, when Durendal agreed to try a second binding. Montpurse had argued at first, dreading having to watch his friend bleed to death all over the cold metal of the anvil. But the cocky bastard pulled it off, and Montpurse's friend was returned to him.
Nythia was really what showed him the depth of Durendal's admiration for him. It troubled Montpurse late at night, because he didn't want to let this brilliant Blade down, didn't want him to realize just how human Montpurse was. The king made Durendal a baron, awarded him with a White Star, and all Durendal could do was say that surely Montpurse had known, surely Montpurse was just a moment away from making the decision to save Ambrose's life, and Durendal had stepped out of line taking action himself.
Montpurse felt old when they returned to Grandon. He wasn't yet thirty, but he had been bound for his ten years now. He loved being in the Guard, loved being Leader and interacting with the Blades. Ambrose would deny it, and Durendal would deny it, but Montpurse was starting to slow down, and he was starting to feel the strain of having been bound for so long. And when the letter came regarding the long-forgotten Everman, and Ambrose started talking about sending someone after him, sending Durendal after him, Montpurse had volunteered himself for release instead.
Ambrose had said no; Ambrose had pointed out Montpurse's new bride and infant child, waiting at home for him. Ambrose had claimed that he couldn't afford to lose Montpurse as commander of his Guard, despite the fact that Montpurse wasn't anywhere near as good as Durendal.
And Montpurse hadn't been able to say no.
He hated himself for that, hated the fact that he had doomed his friend. It had been his idea that Durendal bind a Blade, and years down the road he would add that guilt to the burden he bore. But Montpurse had wanted his friend to come home safe, even if it meant at the cost of another's life.
The next five years were lonely for Montpurse, despite having a wife and two quickly growing sons. It was easier when men like Chefney were finally released from the Guard, as Montpurse continued to remain bound, but now at least they could be friends. It hadn't been the same, though, and everyone knew it. The Guard was off-balance, the king out of sorts. Durendal soon became nothing more than a name with the younger generation of guardsmen, a bedtime story instead of a living legend.
When Queen Sian was arrested for treason, and her Blades killed, Montpurse had finally gone to Ambrose and begged for release. By then, even his binding wouldn't protest; he hadn't seen what was going on right under his nose, hadn't been able to stop the deaths of those four young men, and he was tired. The king had granted his request, and Montpurse had gone home that night and cried himself to sleep in his wife's arms.
The next day, Kromman had returned, reporting Durendal's death. Montpurse fled the capital.
When the letter came, he hadn't been sure how they had managed to find him. He hadn't been sure it was real either, because a writ summoning him to Grandon as chancellor surely had to be a fake; he was a Blade, and nothing more. But he had known Ambrose long enough to recognize that terrible scrawl he tried to pass off as hand-writing, worse than even Montpurse's own, and once more, he hadn't been able to say no.
It had been hard to adjust to this new role, forced apart from everyone again. He was Earl Montpurse now, and that meant he couldn't slip down to the Blades' Den whenever he wanted. Not without turning heads or causing more trouble for Hoare than was entirely necessary, even if Hoare called him 'Leader' still more than anyone else.
News traveled quickly to Grandon from Nocare Palace; Montpurse wasn't sure if he believed it, but despite diplomatic duties within the capital, he rode the two hours to see for himself. Seeing Durendal alive was more of a relief than Montpurse thought possible. Montpurse hadn't commented on the absence of Wolfbiter, and the two slipped back into the forgotten pathways of their odd friendship.
Durendal had changed, but so had Montpurse. They were both older, more care-worn; some might call them wiser, but Montpurse just felt more tired. Durendal was less obvious in his admiration of Montpurse, distracted by his own hoard of hero-worshippers. Montpurse was only glad that the youngsters never realized that the great Durendal had a hero of his own, because then they would start sending second glances at the chancellor and start treating him as something more than some sort of kindly uncle or favored older brother.
It was after the king's third wife died when Montpurse was once again reminded of the peculiarities of his friendship with Durendal. It had been Montpurse that Durendal had come to, seeking help; Montpurse who Durendal had confided his fears and worries to. It wasn't something that happened often, something Montpurse rarely thought of, but Durendal still thought Montpurse knew all the answers. It scared him more than anything, these days, because whenever he looked in the mirror he couldn't understand what Durendal saw in him, didn't see why this hero among heroes chose him of all people to look up to. But together, they had managed to put the king right, to bring him back to himself and keep the country running without anyone realizing just how bad things had been.
Time passed in the blink of an eye, and as Durendal quietly prepared for the impending attack this newest piece of legislation would incite, Montpurse tried to warn his friend; but just like Durendal's first night in the palace, he didn't understand what Montpurse was saying.
He would never know if Durendal had read his confession; would never know if Durendal would understand the tears in his eyes when the newly named chancellor came to visit the traitor's cell. He had written the letter to Durendal, buried somewhere in the stack of papers that would be taken away, filed, and forgotten; it was a confession among confessions, and the one he felt most guilty about.
Part of him hoped Durendal would never read it. He had tried for so long to live up to Durendal's expectations, tried so hard to be the hero's hero. He wasn't ashamed of how things ended; he was ashamed of what Durendal would think of him. Durendal would never think of him as a traitor to the throne, but it wasn't the king he had betrayed.
Montpurse had betrayed his best friend.