This year, I’ll be doing three lists at the end of the year–one on film, one on books, and a special one on writing instruction books. Remember the criteria is totally random. To be eligible, I have to had read the book, short story or comic this year. This list has nothing to do with when the work came out. However, it might help you inform your reading. If you’re interested, just click below.
So the Standard Bearer prepared for her journey back to the hovel that was formerly her kingdom.
“I know how much you dislike it,” she said to Companion.
“They treat you so ill,” he said. “But I will not leave you to them.”
Yet, the Standard Bearer left the keep under the cover of night. She wasn’t sure why. Some part of her felt shame. She had lived in the hovel all her life, serving the King and Queen. Every time she had suggested an improvement, they had found a way to destroy it. And now that she had built a Keep with her own hands, and she had seen what could be, she no longer had the same reverence for the King or Queen, or their hovel. She had walked into the sun, and it was painful to be dragged back into the dust and gloom.
The hovel repulsed her when she saw it, but she still moved forward. In the throne room, she found only the King. Or what was left of the King, the body emaciated, the eyeballs shriveled, the hair in dirty dead strands. Skeletal fingers gripped the orb and scepter.
The Standard Bearer fell to her knees and cried. The King had never been kind to her, made her do things that she didn’t want to do, and then pretended he was sorry for it. They both pretended that the queen didn’t know, but the Standard Bearer knew that she did. So, as much as she cried from sadness, she cried from relief. Freedom and responsibility twisted together in her chest.
“Ah,” said the Queen, “you’ve come back. You see what you’ve caused.” The Queen sat on a litter, carried by two other knights. One the Standard Bearer remembered from her time in the court. He had no honor and no shame.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t think you cared,” said the Queen stiffly.
“Of course I cared!” the Standard Bearer yelled. “I cared enough to carry your standard into the world, and find you a better place, where you could live, truly live, away from this filth and grime, and where you could hold your head up! And you stay, with your castle falling around your ears, with your dead husband, and with the most wicked knight known in our lands.”
The Queen cried. The knight drew his sword. “We don’t want you,” he sneered.
“No,” said the Standard Bearer, “you don’t. I am sorry. For everything. Please, do not do this, my queen. Come with me. Come see what I have for you.” The Standard Bearer looked at the dead body. “Don’t choose this man,” she said, indicating the knight. “He has the same spirit as the king. Don’t stand by another such man.”
The Queen said nothing, righteously glaring at the Standard Bearer, who left the castle.
When the Standard Bearer returned to the Keep, her Companion embraced her. “Are you hurt? Why did you go alone?”
“I am well,” said the Standard Bearer, wiping her eyes. “I am sorry I went alone. They will not be coming.”
The Companion wrapped his arms around her. “All is well,” he said. “You have me, and I love you.”
It was always a point of melancholy for the Standard Bearer. She would cry sometimes when she would hear news from the old kingdom, when she would hear of quarrels, of the Queen being beaten and degraded. And eventually, the pain was more than she could shoulder, so she decided to stop hearing the news.
The letters came. Begging letters, beseeching letters from the Queen. Eventually, the Standard Bearer stopped opening them. She would never go home, and the Queen would never change.
While the Standard Bearer never changed the style of her armor, her friends made her a new suit of it–the patchwork and cast off parts made of gold, silver, and platinum. She served them and the Companion. And they served her back.