The forests of Hardhelm were vast and the trees seemed to pour down from the mountains engulfing the kingdom’s capital in green. The city of Vokes was built from the oak trees that made up the forest. The air felt cool and fresh always carrying a sweet smell from the trees and surrounding growth. The castle was the only structure in Vokes that was built completely out of stone. To Reigan, who stood waiting in the hallway outside of the throne room, the castle felt unwelcoming. The air inside was still and the walls were damp. He shifted his feet. He just wanted to be outside in the fresh air.
The throne belonged to Nora, the queen of Hardhelm. She was the one who had summoned him. Unable to keep still any longer, he began to pace the hall. His footsteps echoed as he walked. Summoned by the queen. Why? He strained his mind trying to figure out what could have got him here. His squadron lieutenant did have it out for him. They were always at each other’s throats. I would remember doing something stupid enough to see the queen. He thought as the doors to the throne room opened. A guard stepped out and motioned for Reigan to enter.
As he approached the throne he noticed his commander and squadron lieutenant standing next to the queen along with the members of her staff. Reigan glanced over at his lieutenant and noticed the smug look on his face. That bastard. He thought. Whatever this is, it’s bad enough to make him happy. Reigan came to a stop and bowed before the queen. As he bowed his commander made the introduction.
“Her majesty, Queen Nora of Hardhelm, welcomes you Sir Reigan of Vokes, Squadron IX Knight and triple ace.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.”
Reigan hated the formality, but he tried his best not to show it. He’d already spoken to the queen on multiple occasions and they knew each other well enough.
“Sir Reigan,” said the queen. “You have proven yourself to be one of the best pilots in Drekland as well as a strong leader.”
“Thank you, Ma’am.”
“As you know our alliance with Balfore has only grown stronger with the new threat from Skaryth. They have been very generous with us and it’s only right that we match their generosity in return…”
Reigan began to shift his feet ever so slightly. He was losing patience. Spit it out. What does this have to do with me?
“…with that being said, we have recently received word from Rykhild that their Squadron II lieutenant has been severely injured and will be unable to command the squadron indefinitely. I have volunteered to send one of our best pilots as a replacement, and the commander of Balfore’s squadrons has accepted my offer.”
“That’s why I’m promoting you to lieutenant and assigning you to Squadron II. You will lead that squadron in Rykhild and bring further honor to the kingdom of Hardhelm.”
“Your Majesty, with all due respect, I must decline this offer.”
The queen’s staff looked at each other and began muttering amongst themselves. Reigan looked to his commander for support. None came. That’s when he noticed the smirk on his lieutenant’s face. They made eye contact and the lieutenant gave him wink. That bastard. I bet he volunteered my name when the queen asked for a pilot. Reigan clenched his fists.
“My home is here. My wife and children are here! I fight for our kingdom, yes, but I fight for my family as well!”
The muttering turned into shouting and it was directed at Reigan, but the queen remained silent. She kept her gaze on him.
“Sir Reigan, I know that you are not just a knight, but a family man as well. Neither drake nor dragon has ever attacked this city. King Magnus has all of his flying forces fixed on Rykhild. They need your help over there. If we can beat those flying beasts at Rykhild, then maybe our homes will be spared.”
Reigan remained silent. He contemplated the queen’s words. She wasn’t wrong, but it’s not what he wanted. He wanted to stay here with his wife and children.
“Give us the room.” She commanded. At once the room was emptied leaving Reigan alone with the queen.
“There’s something else.” She said, “For a long time now I’ve carried suspicions about King Rowan and his advancements in technology. Just ten years ago we were all dependent on horses for transportation and arrows for distance attack, and now Balfore has guns, engine driven machines and flight! It’s hard for me to believe that his alchemists could achieve what ours could not. I need you to gather as much information about their technology as you can. I also need you to find out how their technology was acquired.”
“You want me to act as a spy? I thought Balfore was our ally?”
“Careful Reigan. Balfore is our ally and I wish to keep it that way, but there are things that I must know before this war is over. Right now we have a common enemy, but what happens when that enemy is defeated?”
“I see.” He was beginning to understand the queen’s motives.
“The information that you provide will help ensure that we are all on an even keel once this war is over. It is very important that this mission remains a secret. You are to report any information learned to me alone. To everyone else, you are going to Rykhild to take charge of Squadron II. Do you understand, Sir Reigan?”
“I understand, Your Majesty.” There was no arguing. He knew that her word was final. There was just one question that was burning in his mind.
“Ma’am, if you don’t mind me asking, who was it that recommended me for this mission?”
Queen Nora smiled.
“I selected you, Reigan. We’ve known each other for a long time and I know that I can trust you. You are a person who refuses to fail and we need that in Balfore for the sake of our own kingdom.”
Reigan smiled and nodded in agreeance. The lack of his lieutenant’s involvement made accepting this assignment a little easier.
“You have the rest of the day to pack and to say goodbye to your family. The train taking you to Rykhild leaves in the morning.”
“Thank you, Ma’am. I will not fail you.”
With that, Reigan gave a bow and left the room. Once outside he took in a deep breath of fresh air and allowed his muscles to relax. He was glad to be out of there, but it wasn’t long before his thoughts turned to his family. It was the early afternoon and he would have to hurry home if he was going to have any time to spend with them. Even though he was eager to spend every second possible with them, he knew that breaking the news to his family wasn’t going to be easy.