“Fuck you, Oliver.”
“That’s not fair,” Oliver says, with that long suffering look that he’s perfected in the years since he became king. “I did everything I could.”
“You know what’s not fair?” Sara asks, anger rising in her voice. “You sent me away, and Darhk killed my sister. Your wife. And now you won’t let me go after him. So don’t lecture me about what’s fair.”
She’s yelling now, and the part of her that had court etiquette drilled into her head knows that she shouldn’t raise her voice to her king, but she doesn’t have it in her to care. And no one else seems to either. Even Diggle, Oliver’s personal guard, just looks at her with pity.
Oliver shifts uncomfortably in his seat and glances at the empty throne beside him. “If you go after him he’ll kill you too. And I’ve already lost my queen. I won’t lose my Champion as well.”
Sara almost laughs at the irony. But she settles for throwing her shield - the one he gave her when he named her Champion - at his feet.
Oliver winces as the shield clatters to the a stop, the bright yellow canary emblazoned on it staring up at him accusingly. Or at least, Sara likes to think that it does.
“What good is being Champion if I can’t avenge my sister?”
She storms out of the throne room.
Oliver might be king, but she’s still the greatest knight in the Twelve Realms, with or without his blessing. She is more than capable of finding Darhk herself. And she’s slayed multiple dragons. How hard can finding and defeating an evil sorcerer be?
One Year Later
The door to Sara’s room - although calling the converted store room she rents off the side of the village tavern a room is generous - opens with a bang that reverberates through her skull. Or maybe that’s just her hangover talking.
She opens her eyes and blinks against the sudden brightness before squeezing them shut again. Yep. Definitely the hangover.
“You know,” Jax says from somewhere near the door, “when I agreed to be your squire I thought it was going to be more adventuring and less cleaning up after you and making sure you don’t die of alcohol poisoning. Not that we didn’t have some great adventures back in the day, but lately you’ve really let yourself go.”
He’s not wrong. She’d promised him that after she was back on her feet they would go after Darhk again, but the only place she’s looked for him since was the bottom of her tankard. And he’s definitely not there.
“Can you complain more quietly?” she asks, throwing an arm over her eyes to block out the light.
“No.” He tosses her a shirt. “Put this on, and try to look at least somewhat respectable.”
“Why?” she asks, sniffing the shift. It does seem to be at least somewhat cleaner than the one she slept in. And wore the day before. And the day before that.
“You have a visitor,” Jax says, piling her other laundry in a corner and sweeping the worst of the dirt and crumbs off the small desk that doubles as a table.
“If it’s Oliver tell him to go fuck himself,” Sara says.
“Yeah, because I’m about to say that to the king of Starling,” Jax says, and she doesn’t have to look at him to know he’s rolling his eyes. “But it’s not him. It’s some princess from up north here to ask for our help.”
“Well you can tell her that I don’t do that anymore,” Sara says, but she’s already pulling on the shirt Jax gave her. If she smells too bad Jonah won’t serve her, and she has plans to get very drunk today. Hair of the dog and all that.
Jax inspects the room, which is still a mess, but less outwardly disgusting than it had been. “I did, but she’s real persistent. And kinda scary.”
Sara gets up, doing her best to ignore the slight pull of the scar on her side. She rakes a hand through her hair, trying to remember the last time she washed it. “Fine, but I’m saying no.”
Jax ducks out and a moment later a tall woman follows him back into the room. “I give you Countess Ava Amilia Margareta Sharpe, second heir to the throne of Tempus. Did I get that right? You have a lot of names.”
The countess just shoots him a look, which he takes as his cue to leave, abandoning Sara with the woman. Joy.
The woman looks around the room, not even trying to conceal her distaste. “You expect me to believe that you are Sara Lance, the Knight of Canaries, Champion of the Kingdom of Starling?”
“The one and only.” Sara suddenly feels the need to defend her reputation. She may have spent the last year actively trying to forget it, but she had earned it fair and square.
“Most people think you’re dead,” the countess says. “Which, frankly, would be preferable to this...filth you’re living in.”
Who is this woman anyways? Coming in here and insulting her? It’s not like Sara would have agreed to help her even if she’d been polite, but this is just ridiculous.
“You know, most people who want someone to help them don’t immediately insult them,” Sara says, crossing her arms. “Not that I’m in the heroing business anymore, being dead and all, but if I were, I would definitely not help someone as rude as you.”
“You’re going to reject my offer before even hearing my story?” the countess asks, pulling out a small velvet bag.
“Yep.” Sara sits down at her small dsek and props her feet up. She doesn’t miss the way the other woman glances at where her boots are resting on the desk with distaste. Getting under the skin of the more judgemental court ladies had always been one of Sara’s special pleasures, and it’s good to know that she hasn’t lost her touch. “You seem like a smart lady. I trust you can see yourself out.”
The countess doesn’t move. “You have to help me. My kingdom was captured in a violent takeover, and the man responsible imprisoned my brother, the king. I barely escaped with my life. And as must as it pains me to admit it, you’re the only hope I have of freeing him and getting back what is rightfully mine.”
“What part of I don’t do that anymore did you not understand?” Sara asks.
The countess straightens to her full height and crosses her arms. Sara finds it more appealing than she probably should, given the circumstances. But then again, she always did have horrible taste in women. And men, come to think of it.
“As a knight you’re honor bound to help me.”
Sara shrugs. “I think you’re confusing me with someone who gives a shit about honor. You should try Sir Raymond of the Palms. He loves all that chivalry and honor crap.”
The countess narrows her eyes before pulling a fist sized sapphire from the bag she’s holding and placing it on the desk in front of Sara. “This is the Oculus Jewel. It’s been in my family for generations and is the most valuable thing I possess. It’s yours if you help me.”
“Look, the one thing I want you can’t give me, so I’d suggest you find some other poor sap to help you.” Sara inspects an apple Jax left for her a couple days ago and starts to eat it. “Ray’s usually making the rounds on the tournament circuit this time of year.”
She looks like she’s about to argue, but instead she grits her teeth, grabs the sapphire, and storms out.
Good riddance. Sara has very important drinking to get to. And who knows, maybe today will be the day she finally drinks enough to forget about Damien Darhk.
“Another,” Sara says, pushing her empty tankard towards the barkeep.
She’s lost track of how many she’s had, but it’s not enough to dull the pain of Laurel’s death yet. Not that she’s ever managed to drink enough to forget that particular pain.
“You’ve had enough,” he says. “I’m cutting you off.”
“Aww, c’mon Jonah,” she definitely does not slur. “Just one more.”
“I let you stay here because of the debt I owe you,” he says. “But that debt does not extend to unpaid bar tabs or letting you drink yourself into an early grave.”
“You’re no fun.” She turns to Jax, who’s sitting next to her at the bar, nursing his ale. “Buy me another?”
“You know he can hear you right?” Jax asks, clearly amused.
She scowls and looks over at Jonah, who’s standing at the bar with his arms crossed. Damn.
Jax jerks his thumb behind him. “Why don’t you go ask her? She’s been staring at you for the past hour anyways.”
Sara turns around and spots the woman from that morning, sitting at the back of the tavern, fixing her with a look that Sara’s only seen on dragons and particularly cross housekeepers.
“Shit, what’s she doing here?”
Jax shrugs and takes a sip of his drink. “Dunno. But I get the feeling that she’s not gonna leave you alone until you at least talk to her.”
Sara really doesn’t want to talk to her again, but if it gets her another drink she’ll suffer through it.
She pushes herself up from the bar and definitely doesn’t sway at all as she makes her way across the room. The countess’s eyes follow her, and she frowns, a look that just oozes judgement.
God, Sara really fucking hates her.
Sara plots herself down across from her and leans forward on her elbows. “Heyyyy Ava - that is your name right? Ava?”
The countess works her jaw, clearly annoyed. “I would prefer to be address by my title.”
“Well, Ava,” Sara drawls, enjoying the way Ava scowls at her. Annoying uptight ladies is the only thing about life at court that she misses. “If you’re gonna stare at me all night you might as well buy me a drink for the trouble.”
“You clearly don’t need any more,” Ava says.
Sara huffs. “Well if you’re not gonna buy me a drink, then why are you still here? I thought I made myself clear earlier. I’m out of the princess saving game.”
“Countess,” Ava corrects.
“The countess saving game, whatever,” Sara says, rolling her eyes.
“What happened to you?” Ava asks. “You were the Champion of Starling, the greatest knight in the Twelve Realms. Your name was feared from Zambesi in the south to Tempus in the north and Nanda Parbat in the east. And now you’re...this.”
She waves her hand at Sara as if it encompasses her entire point.
Sara bristles at her tone. How dare she? Sara could easily still be Champion if she wanted. She just doesn’t want to. She has half a mind to should this uppity countess exactly what she’s capable of. But she settles for sitting back and crossing her arms.
“If you know me so well, why don’t you tell me?”
Ava narrows her eyes and studies her. Sara has to stop herself from squirming in her seat at the intensity of Ava’s look. “I think you’re scared.”
Sara scoffs. “Really? Me? Scared?”
“Your sister was the queen of Starling, was she not?” Ava asks, raising an eyebrow.
Sara nods, not sure where this is going.
“She was killed a little over a year ago, although no one seems to know how,” Ava continues.
Sara grits her teeth against the know that forms in her stomach. She really needs another drink.
“And shortly thereafter you disappeared and the rumor spread that you were dead. ANd now you move like you took an injury of some sort, probably to the abdomen. So I think you went after her killer and almost died yourself. And now, instead of living up to the name of one of the most beloved rulers in the Twelve Realms, you’re drinking yourself into oblivion so you don’t have to admit that you’re scared of that happening again.”
Sara’s hand automatically goes to her side, pressing up against the rough edges of the scar there. Was she really so transparent?
“Well, you seem to have me all figured out, don’t you?” Sara says, not even trying to keep the scorn out of her voice. “If you think so little of me then why are you here, begging for my help?”
“Because if even half the stories people tell about you are true, you’re the only person who stands a chance of rescuing my brother and freeing my kingdom from Damien Darhk.”
Sara blinks. Huh.
“Damien Darhk?” Sara asks, leaning forward.
“Yes,” Ava says. “He’s a sorcerer. He used his magic to take overthrow my brother and take over Tempus.”
“I’m in,” Sara says, swallowing the fear that’s rising in her chest. Things will be different this time. This time Darhk won’t be expecting her. This time she knows exactly what he can do.
“Really?” Ava asks, surprised. There’s a hint of something else in her expression. Something Sara can’t quite decipher. Almost as if she’s disappointed that Sara agreed.
Which, frankly, only makes Sara more determined to take the stupid quest.
“Jax, fetch my horse,” Sara calls across the room, standing up. “We’ve got a kingdom to save.”
She turns around and promptly stumbles, tripping over her own feet and crashing into a table.
“First thing in the morning,” she says, picking herself up. “We’re gonna go save a kingdom first thing in the morning.”
Ava sighs. “I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?”