"You should kill them. Now."
Thomas, Duke of Wain, turned to his bannerman. "I've never known you to be so bloodthirsty, Al."
Ser Alfred of the Worth Peninsula shifted uncomfortably. "No good will come of this, Tom. You haven't ever gone beyond the cliffs of Goth. I have. I've seen...things. One of those things is what lies in the wake of the Demon Host's passing."
Thomas laughed. "Fifty men and women is hardly a Host, old friend."
"Fifty vicious killers, my Duke. You'd be wise to remember that." Alfred turned his gaze to the approaching foreigners. None within the Demon's Host delegation wore armor, only simple crimson tunics and leggings. All had either swords or quivers and bows slung over their shoulders, and two daggers sheathed in their belts. At the head of the delegation strode a tall, wiry man in a crimson robe and hood, holding a serpentine staff. All of the men were clean-shaven. Alfred didn't trust clean-shaven men; in his experience, lack of beard generally meant lack of honor. The women's tunics were little more than wraps about their breasts, their stomachs glistened from the passing rain. Alfred felt something stir within his codpiece; he closed his eyes and thought of his wife. The stirring ceased.
"Vicious or no, they are fifty. We are three hundred," Thomas reminded as he spat on a cloth and polished his breastplate. The raven adorning his chest shone in the moonlight.
"The odds are more even than you think," Alfred muttered as the Demons passed over the canyon encircling Raven's Keep.
Thomas arched an eyebrow. "Have you been holding out on us, Al? Keeping some military secrets to yourself?"
"Of course not! But these Demons have no honor! They will stab us in the back and slit our throats the second our back is turned."
"Then we will just have to make sure we don't turn our backs," a soft, feminine voice said from behind Alfred.
He turned to see the Duchess of Wain, clad in her own deep blue armor. "My lady Martha," he said, bowing.
Martha laughed, a sound that once again caused stirrings where Alfred did not want them. It had taken years to control those urges around his friend's wife, ever since his failing years before. Alfred still could not fathom why Thomas had forgiven him for his betrayal. Even the Lady Marie had forgiven him. Perhaps Marie had done so for their Julia, and Thomas had done so for the sake of young Bruce. Whatever the reason, Alfred had resolved to never give in to his urgings again; indeed, not even have them at all. Though, being around Martha — catching the lilac scent of her hair, seeing her dress hugging those curves...
No. No, best not to think about it. Don't even look at her. "I've said something amusing, my lady?" Alfred asked, taking a keen interest in the raven banner flapping about in the night breeze.
A soft hand touched his shoulder; Alfred refused to look. "You don't have to address me as 'my lady,' Al," Martha said. "We've been close for years."
Alfred's body quivered at Martha's touch, but he did not break. "My lady, there is a certain decorum that must be — "
"Oh, for Goddess's sake, Martha, leave the poor man be," Thomas laughed. "You're threatening his honor."
Martha laughed again, turning her back to Alfred to approach her husband. Alfred made the mistake of looking; his eyes slid far lower than he intended. The banner suddenly became quite interesting again. Alfred closed his eyes, thinking of Marie, keeping his gauntlets in front of him until the stirring passed. Thomas was right about one thing; even though the affair had been fine with him, been fine with Marie, been fine with Martha, it wasn't so with Alfred. Perhaps it was because Thomas and Martha were Goths, and Marie was Themysciran, while Alfred hailed from the much more traditional Metropola. He did feel bad about ending the affair with Martha, but his honor simply couldn't take it anymore. Thomas was his best friend; it had been so since Alfred had arrived in Goth as a young lad. It lasted all through Alfred's absence fighting in the Themysciran Wars, strengthened upon Alfred's return. Alfred cared far more about Thomas's friendship than any carnal desire for Martha.
"I'm sorry, Al," Martha said, smiling, as she wrapped her arms around her husband. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable." Her smile faded. "I really did not."
Alfred gave a slight nod. "It's all right, my lady."
The sound of footsteps heralded the arrival of the Demons. Instinctively, Alfred's hand went to the hilt of his sword as he turned to face them. The movement was not unnoticed by the Demons. But far from putting them on alert, the aggressive gesture made them smile. "Ready for battle, are we, Ser Alfred of Worth?" the leader of the Demons sang with a grin.
"If need be," Alfred snarled. He already loathed the Demon leader; hated his golden hair, his sapphire eyes, his pale skin. Everything about the man screamed insincerity, and Alfred prayed to the Goddess and the Magdalene both that Thomas had enough sense to see it as well.
Thomas and Martha approached the Demon leader. "I am Duke Thomas. Welcome to Goth Isle. The hospitality of the Duchy of Wain is yours," Thomas said diplomatically.
Martha took the Demon leader's hand. "And I am Duchess Martha. Anything your people need, you need only ask."
The Demon leader smiled; it was less a smile than a leer. Alfred noticed the Demon's eyes drifted down to Martha's chest; he felt the near-uncontrollable urge to shove his sword between them.
"You are quite kind, Lady Martha," the Demon said. "I am Joseph, the Demon's Voice."
Thomas and Martha inclined their heads respectfully. "Would you like to join us inside for a feast? The air is quite cold out here, after all," Thomas invited.
Joseph laughed. "A feast sounds delightful. And the cold doesn't bother me. In fact, I find that I quite enjoy the chill."