Some doors shouldn’t be opened.
The old man astride the war-horse, weighted down by armor and grief, sometimes wished that someone had told him that when he was a child. If they had, his life might have been quite different. He might not have gone through that door, so long ago. His life might have been simple and blessedly dull. Instead, it had been . . . interesting.
Turning, he saw his middle-son, Florin. Tall and thin, not even a priest’s tonsure had managed to tame the boy’s golden curls.
But no, thought the old man. Not a boy, not for many years now. Florin was a man, full grown and committed to Mother Church.
"We’ve received word from Hell’s Maw."
"How bad was it?"
Florin toyed with his devotional beads. "It was a rout."
The old man nodded. This news was not shocking. "And your brother?"
"There’s been no word."
He’s probably crow food, thought the old man. Like your younger brother, sweet Florin, and all those folk in Eastmarch.
"Do you bring me any good news?"
Florin nodded. "The Council of Patriarchs has agreed to your plan. They’ve made all the arrangements and only wait for your signal."
A goblin youth in a soiled messenger’s tunic rushed up to the duo. "Sire! Sire!"
"Movement, sire!" gasped the gob. "The Lich-Queen’s army is moving!"
"To the rear, Florin," ordered the old man. "Tell your fellow priests that the signal is given."
He slid his helmet over his head. As he did, a curious thought came to him. What would Aunt Lou say, if she could see him now?
He couldn’t imagine, and it didn’t matter. Aunt Lou was part of his other life. The life he had chosen to leave. This was his life now.
"Trumpeters, call the lines to order!"
Clear brass notes cut through the fading light. Around the old man, his loyal knights and barons gathered. Behind them, a chorus of sonorous voices rose in supplication to heaven.
The wind shifted, bringing the stink of the enemy to them. They smelt of rotted flesh, of death and the foul potions used to reanimate them. Ten thousand strong, the army of the dead lurched toward the living.
Overhead, the gray clouds writhed and twisted apart. Shafts of golden light fell upon the old man, as he drew his blade.
The final battle of the Lich-Queen’s War began.