Chapter 20

Eagle, Gladius; Gladian Year 603

"Life would be so much simpler if the only feeling you couldn't shake off was the bittersweet pangs of romance. Unfortunately, life is never that simple. I'm overcome by this dread of what's to come and I don't know what to do. Should I simply do nothing? No, the right answer is rarely the simple one..."
-Excerpt from the journal of Luther the Guardian

Several days had passed since Luther heard the first word of a potentially hostile army massing near the border. For the first time since the Unification, Gladius stood on the brink of war. As a warrior, battle was his purpose in life and he was almost eager for the challenge.
On the other hand, there was a sense of foreboding that overshadowed his thoughts. He had been gripped by a bad feeling ever since he heard the news. For some reason, he was certain Gladius would fall. He knew better than to think that way. He knew that believing in your defeat was the shortest path to it, but the feeling would not go away. He knew what was going to happen and that nothing he did would stop it. If nothing else, he could at least do something to limit the losses.
To that end, he walked into the room where his wife and son were playing. He took a moment to just look at the two together, mother and child. Nothing in this world was more beautiful to him. Nothing was more precious. For that reason, he would do everything in his power to protect them.
Nyssa looked up and noticed he was in the room. She smiled at him.
"What is it, Luther?"
The smile faded as she saw the concern on his face. Luther sighed heavily.
"You know about the army that's shown up on the border, don't you? It looks like war is coming to Gladius. To tell you the truth, I'm afraid."
Nyssa chuckled.
"It's only natural, even for you, Luther the Guardian, but I'm not worried. You're the best warrior in the kingdom. You could best a thousand men on your own. And with Julian at your side, you can take two thousand. The King and the army can handle the leftovers."
Luther smiled at the compliment, but it did not last for long.
"I'm not worried about myself," he said. "This is the kind of thing I was born for." He paused, looking at them in silence. "It's you... and Mark... I'm ready to die in battle at any time, but I couldn't bear the thought of anything happening to either of you. I've found out that my brother is living in Byrn. I want you and Mark to stay with him until this is over."
Nyssa looked at him incredulously.
"You can't be serious. What safer place is there than our own home?"
"I mean it," Luther said firmly. "I want you two to be safe. I've had this feeling, this... premonition... that we won't win against this enemy. Gladius may fall, but I can't lose you, too."
"How can you talk like that!?" she said sharply. Putting their son to the side, she rose up and walked up to him. "'A warrior who looks for defeat will find it.' You taught me that. Do any of those old sayings mean anything to you or are they just empty words? You've shown me the power of the Guardian. No human can stand against it. Why do you think you'll lose?"
Luther could not meet her eyes, looking down at the floor instead.
"The enemy may not be human..."
"What kind of nonsense are you talking about!?" she balked. "The nonhumans have been extinct for two hundred years! Your own ancestor saw to it! You're just making excuses. You're such a strong man, Luther... Why are you acting like a coward!?"
No one could get away with questioning the courage of Luther the Guardian, not even his own wife. He raised his hand to strike her, but Nyssa did not flinch, holding her ground more boldly than any man. Her eyes did not show even the slightest signs of wavering before her warrior husband. Realizing what he was about to do, Luther stopped himself, his hand visibly trembling from the pent-up energy denied its release. Shamed at how close he had come to bringing violence upon the woman he loved, Luther clutched his face in frustration.
"Why must you do this to me!? I only want to protect you!"
Nyssa stepped forward, taking hold of his hand, the very hand that almost struck her.
"Then protect us! Out there, on the battlefield! I know you can do it! I won't allow anything less from you! You're too great a man to talk like this! You're--"
Luther cut off her words with a kiss and held her for several long moments. Although she had gotten considerably worked up during the argument, he could feel the tension in her body loosen. When he pulled away, he kept his face close to hers and whispered softly.
"Please, let me do this... Let me protect you my own way."
Tears slowly ran down Nyssa's cheeks as she hung her head in surrender.
"I hope you don't think you can always have your way by doing this," she said. After a moment of silence, she sighed heavily. "Take Mark to Byrn if you must, but I won't leave."
She raised her head, the resolve in her eyes as rock-hard as it had been when she defied her father's wishes to marry the courtier Crassus Vitellius.
"I refuse," she insisted. "Whenever you feel like the enemy is about to overwhelm you, I want you to remember that I'm here waiting for you. Remember me and fight on."
Luther held his wife in their embrace. He would not push the issue any further. If his son was safe in Byrn, at least half of his heart could be at ease.

* * *

The next morning, Luther had his horse ready outside the manor. After mounting his steed, Nyssa gave Mark a kiss and lifted him up to his father. Husband and wife looked at each other longingly. Nyssa managed a facetious smile in spite of her tears.
"I expect to have my son back within a month," she said. "I don't want him picking up any bad habits from your brother."
Luther returned her smile.
"He's a better man than me," the Guardian replied. "Mark will be in good hands."
He waved goodbye and his young son imitated the gesture. Though he maintained a gentle gallop in town, he spurred his horse to go as fast as it could manage out in the open. It would take nearly three weeks to make it to Byrn and back. He only hoped his return would not be too late.