As is obvious from the title of Book One, understanding the Origin of our characters is often quite an important part in their respective storylines.

This brief anthology features our favourite characters on their journeys leading up to the main series, thereby serving as their personal prologues.

Join them, and discover intimate details of their lives and even some hints towards the upcoming books.

Bon voyage!

#0  Scar
#1  Zeleina
#2  Rafael
#3  Edward and Byron
#4  Trisha and Serafina
#5  Dorian
#6  Rolf and Carlos

As is obvious from the title of Book One, understanding the Origin of our characters is often quite an important part in their respective storylines.

This brief anthology features our favourite characters on their journeys leading up to the main series, thereby serving as their personal prologues.

Join them, and discover intimate details of their lives and even some hints towards the upcoming books.

Bon voyage!

#0 Scar
#1 Zeleina
#2 Rafael
#3 Edward & Byron
#4 Trisha & Serafina
#5 Dorian
#6 Rolf & Carlos


Scar

Year 1263AD
Forest of Death

Clang! Clang!

The entire forest was flooded with commotion. The voices of men barking out orders, the shrill sounds of metal striking metal, the incessant screaming and shrieking of man, woman and child alike. The air was filled with the metallic smell of blood, dripping from the blades of grass, smeared across the tree trunks, forming puddles on the ground.

Read More

And somewhere in the middle of this mayhem, lay a woman. Her gown, which had been white, had turned a deep scarlet. Held in her arms was a little child. Dressed in fine silk, drenched in blood, the child sat there, wounded and shocked. Not moving nor crying, just sitting there in a pool of blood. Just sitting, and staring...

Close Chapter

0 1 2 3 4 5 6

Scar

Year 1263AD
Forest of Death

Clang! Clang!

The entire forest was flooded with commotion. The voices of men barking out orders, the shrill sounds of metal striking metal, the incessant screaming and shrieking of man, woman and child alike. The air was filled with the metallic smell of blood, dripping from the blades of grass, smeared across the tree trunks, forming puddles on the ground.

Read More

And somewhere in the middle of this mayhem, lay a woman. Her gown, which had been white, had turned a deep scarlet. Held in her arms was a little child. Dressed in fine silk, drenched in blood, the child sat there, wounded and shocked. Not moving nor crying, just sitting there in a pool of blood. Just sitting, and staring...

Close Chapter


Zeleina

Year 1272AD
Torden

“Here we are.”

The hushed voice was still loud enough, in the tight confines of their carriage, to rouse her from the light drowse.

“I know!” she proclaimed, nevertheless, sitting upright in her seat and peering through the windowpane. “I have been watching.”

A dreary, grey sky, accompanied by the faint pitter-patter on the roof of their carriage, welcomed them into the city. To a girl raised in the colourful, vibrant city of Solvahal, this sight of unimaginative rows of blocky houses and unadorned streets immediately had a rather depressing effect.

“Why do we have to live here?” she asked, dread filling her heart.

“This is our new home,” her brother replied, uninterested. “Where else would we live?”

Read More

The crowd along the street had grown louder, as their carriage approached the heart of the city. She could see the bright, cheerful faces lined outside the barricades. She could hear them chanting her father’s name, singing of his glory. A single ray of sunlight shone upon her face, piercing through the clouds, forcing her lips into a smile.

I ought to be happy, she concluded, and there was ample reason for that. After a hundred years, the war had finally ended, and a peace treaty had been signed. She was happy because, finally, the canopy of fear and sorrow could dissolve, and peace was within their grasp. But more than anything, she was happy because her father had done something four of his predecessors had failed to do. King Edward Gyldene II had outlived the war.

The carriage stopped well inside the castle wall. A pair of attendants, quick on their feet, opened the doors. Standing up, regal and proud, Princess Zeleina stepped out. It was fortunate that she was not yet tall enough to need to crouch, else the doorway would have struck her head…

The drizzle had subsided, and a light breeze made her long, silver hair brush across her face. There was something pleasant in the scent of this fresh, wet mud.

“Greetings, Prince Edward,” a hearty voice hailed. “Greetings, Princess Zeleina! Welcome to the Castle of Torden.”

“Ed, Zeleina, this is Lord Tomas,” their father explained. “He will be our host, hereafter.”

“Greetings, Lord Tomas,” Ed replied, a slightly quizzical look on his face. “Lord of?”

“Oh, I am the Lord of No Land,” Tomas answered, with a polite chuckle.

Zeleina remembered having heard the maids gossip about this man, a commoner who had earned his position through his service to the kingdom. With his deeply tanned face, bristly beard, and brown hair tied into a messy braid, it was not hard to believe that the man standing in front of her was not of noble lineage.

“—and might I add that you look more and more like your mother, every passing day,” she heard him say, having unconsciously ignored the rest.

She nodded politely, in response, but cringed inside her own mind. She hated when people said that.

“And this, here,” Tomas continued, “is my only son, Scar.”

He looks like a street urchin, she thought, as she watched the young boy step forward, his auburn hair uncropped and unkempt, a shabby muffler wrapped around his neck. As he clumsily bowed forward, she saw a large scar across his cheek.

Scar actually has a scar, she noted. At that very moment, his grey eyes glinted, and within them she saw something she could not understand, nor forget.

“Greetings, Your Royal Highnesses,” spoke young Scar, his voice uncharacteristically clear and firm. “It is an honour to make your acquaintance.”

Simple though they were, those words stirred within her a feeling she had never experienced in her short life. His shimmering eyes, his sonorous voice, there was something melancholy about them. The burning sensation it caused was not unlike that when her brother pinched her ears.

After a short conversation, the royal family retired to their chambers. The journey from Dulce Lago had been long and arduous, and they deserved a respite. It was after sundown when King Edward summoned them to the garden. As they walked out, they were greeted by a sweet, and strangely familiar, scent. The King stood there, alone, facing the castle wall.

“Do you know why we moved to Torden?” he asked, without turning towards them.

“Because this is our new home?” Ed responded, unthinkingly, earning a sharp jab in the ribs by his sister.

King Edward let out a short laugh, before turning around, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.

“To me, this has always been home,” he replied with a sorrowful smile on his face, as he pointed towards the window behind them. “That, Zeleina, is the room where I first saw you… And here, this is where I last saw your mother… Finally, I have returned.”

Zeleina took a few steps forward. In the distance, she could see the Roman runes carved into the wall.

Here Lies
Arianna



Close Chapter

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Zeleina

Year 1272AD
Torden

“Here we are.”

The hushed voice was still loud enough, in the tight confines of their carriage, to rouse her from the light drowse.

“I know!” she proclaimed, nevertheless, sitting upright in her seat and peering through the windowpane. “I have been watching.”

A dreary, grey sky, accompanied by the faint pitter-patter on the roof of their carriage, welcomed them into the city. To a girl raised in the colourful, vibrant city of Solvahal, this sight of unimaginative rows of blocky houses and unadorned streets immediately had a rather depressing effect.

“Why do we have to live here?” she asked, dread filling her heart.

“This is our new home,” her brother replied, uninterested. “Where else would we live?”

Read More

The crowd along the street had grown louder, as their carriage approached the heart of the city. She could see the bright, cheerful faces lined outside the barricades. She could hear them chanting her father’s name, singing of his glory. A single ray of sunlight shone upon her face, piercing through the clouds, forcing her lips into a smile.

I ought to be happy, she concluded, and there was ample reason for that. After a hundred years, the war had finally ended, and a peace treaty had been signed. She was happy because, finally, the canopy of fear and sorrow could dissolve, and peace was within their grasp. But more than anything, she was happy because her father had done something four of his predecessors had failed to do. King Edward Gyldene II had outlived the war.

The carriage stopped well inside the castle wall. A pair of attendants, quick on their feet, opened the doors. Standing up, regal and proud, Princess Zeleina stepped out. It was fortunate that she was not yet tall enough to need to crouch, else the doorway would have struck her head…

The drizzle had subsided, and a light breeze made her long, silver hair brush across her face. There was something pleasant in the scent of this fresh, wet mud.

“Greetings, Prince Edward,” a hearty voice hailed. “Greetings, Princess Zeleina! Welcome to the Castle of Torden.”

“Ed, Zeleina, this is Lord Tomas,” their father explained. “He will be our host, hereafter.”

“Greetings, Lord Tomas,” Ed replied, a slightly quizzical look on his face. “Lord of?”

“Oh, I am the Lord of No Land,” Tomas answered, with a polite chuckle.

Zeleina remembered having heard the maids gossip about this man, a commoner who had earned his position through his service to the kingdom. With his deeply tanned face, bristly beard, and brown hair tied into a messy braid, it was not hard to believe that the man standing in front of her was not of noble lineage.

“—and might I add that you look more and more like your mother, every passing day,” she heard him say, having unconsciously ignored the rest.

She nodded politely, in response, but cringed inside her own mind. She hated when people said that.

“And this, here,” Tomas continued, “is my only son, Scar.”

He looks like a street urchin, she thought, as she watched the young boy step forward, his auburn hair uncropped and unkempt, a shabby muffler wrapped around his neck. As he clumsily bowed forward, she saw a large scar across his cheek.

Scar actually has a scar, she noted. At that very moment, his grey eyes glinted, and within them she saw something she could not understand, nor forget.

“Greetings, Your Royal Highnesses,” spoke young Scar, his voice uncharacteristically clear and firm. “It is an honour to make your acquaintance.”

Simple though they were, those words stirred within her a feeling she had never experienced in her short life. His shimmering eyes, his sonorous voice, there was something melancholy about them. The burning sensation it caused was not unlike that when her brother pinched her ears.

After a short conversation, the royal family retired to their chambers. The journey from Dulce Lago had been long and arduous, and they deserved a respite. It was after sundown when King Edward summoned them to the garden. As they walked out, they were greeted by a sweet, and strangely familiar, scent. The King stood there, alone, facing the castle wall.

“Do you know why we moved to Torden?” he asked, without turning towards them.

“Because this is our new home?” Ed responded, unthinkingly, earning a sharp jab in the ribs by his sister.

King Edward let out a short laugh, before turning around, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.

“To me, this has always been home,” he replied with a sorrowful smile on his face, as he pointed towards the window behind them. “That, Zeleina, is the room where I first saw you… And here, this is where I last saw your mother… Finally, I have returned.”

Zeleina took a few steps forward. In the distance, she could see the Roman runes carved into the wall.

Here Lies
Arianna



Close Chapter


Rafael

Year 1275AD
Staal

“How do you feel, My Young Prince?”

On its face, that was a simple question, and yet I did not quite know how to answer it. For one, its tone almost seemed to mock me.

Yes, after three years of absence, I would have preferred to have my family welcome me home, and to not have every meal for the past week by myself, but I had not expected it. We are not the most sentimental of people, anyway.

Still, it did feel good to be back.

Despite the many changes within and beyond the Castle, the view across our balcony had remained the same. The dull, limestone mountains to our North looked just the same, under the pale blue sky. The quarrying operations were probably being conducted further to the North.

Read More

It was the city itself that had undergone the largest change during my absence, and I could not wait to explore it. There was much to do within the Castle though, at least until Father arrived, and the least I could do in the interim was reacquaint myself with pulse of the people.

“I have never been better, Uncle Yaegar,” I replied, meaning every word of it. “Actually, I was just about to leave for the range.”

I was actually trying to avoid Count Yaegar, whose paradoxical existence had always puzzled me. On one hand, I always found the way handled himself, with his wispy grey hair falling all over his face, and his unusual, sing-song voice, unsettling at the least, and revolting at the worst; on the other, I could not ignore his prodigious intellectual insights on all matters regarding Our Land.

After all, Father would not simply hand over the title of Governor of the frontier town of Dresden light. He was definitely a trusted ally, and a man I could learn a lot from, but just not taking offence to his manner took too much effort.

“I actually came to speak about something important,” he said, grinning sheepishly. “There is a matter that needs attention, and I do not have the authority to take the decision.”

I simply nodded, unfastening my quiver and placing it on the shelf. Despite royal blood running through their veins, the Yaegars did not have much power outside the province of Dresden. Without wasting another moment, we made our way to the Court.

I was surprised to see the crowd waiting for us inside, especially considering Father was away. One man, dressed in black robes, his arms and legs shackled, was escorted in by the guards

It was evident from the locket around his neck that he was like one of the many zealots I had had the misfortune of meeting, during my travels. What always baffled me was the fact that these sects seemed to be exclusively composed of unusually dense young men.

I quietly took my place to the right of the stone seat. The Count simply stood behind me. Somehow, at the very moment, his presence felt reassuring. The captain of the guards approached me, and sought permission to initiate the proceedings. I nodded.

“Your Highness,” he spoke, his voice impassive but firm, as is expected from a Heiligesian soldier. “This man was caught assaulting an elderly civilian, in the east quadrant of the city. As of now, we have charged him with assault with intent to murder. However, considering the situation, we could only hold him for another day without trial, and we were afraid he might try to flee.”

“I understand,” I replied, while my eyes scanned the crowd. “Is the victim present here? We would like to hear his testimony.”

“Actually, he is still in the infirmary,” the captain explained. “The injuries were severe.”

“What do you have to say, in your defence?” I asked the accused. I was conscious of the blood rushing into my cheeks, and tried to not let it show.

“Your Highness, it is a simple situation,” he began, and I could already feel myself losing control. “That heretic deserved it. He dared to defy our teachings. It is an insult to Our Lord, and the law of the land grants us the right to pass judgement on—”

“Such insolence?” I snarled, rising from my seat. “The land grants us, and only us, the right to pass judgement on the citizens of Staal. Know your place.”

“It is you who is being foolish, Child! Even your father has not dared to defy us! The Lord will smite—”

This time, I could not hold myself back anymore. Walking up to the man, I punched him straight into his throat, simply to make him stop spouting nonsense. As I prepared to hit him again, a firm hand grasp my shoulder. I stopped.

“I have reached a decision,” I proclaimed. “This is not a simple act of violence, but a challenge to the authority of the Crown. Such a transgression cannot be pardoned. First, brand him on the forehead. Even if he flees, he shall never hide. And second, extract the names of his comrades. They shall all be brought to justice.”

❖      ❖     ❖      ❖     ❖

“I must apologise for my behaviour, Uncle,” I sighed, as we walked along the corridor. “That was unbecoming of my position.”

“I liked it,” he replied, a manic look flashing in his green eyes. “One cannot lead a kingdom without passion. However, you may have made a powerful enemy, today… Or maybe exposed one who already existed… I wonder…”

“What do you mean?”

“Listen, Young Prince, I am going to tell you something that no doctrine will ever teach you. Our People are too proud to admit this, but never fail to preach… Pride comes before the fall.”

He paused for a moment, waiting for my response, but I had none. Once again, I was caught between the dilemma of the man’s manner and wisdom. However, I knew it stood to reason that I hear him out, and I motioned him to continue.

“The Heiligesian army has never been defeated in direct battle,” he said, his voice lower than I had ever heard. “Battles were lost by proud kings who failed to see the strength of the enemy within. Your Father was the first to realise this, and he has since stopped and sought to forge peace with our neighbours. He has made friends beyond our borders, in his bid to hunt down the enemies within.”

“I think I understand,” I replied. That was, however, a lie, but I did know it would be important in the years to come. I would have to remember these words, and think over them.

“Have you been writing your experiences, like they would have told you?” he asked, looking straight through my pretence.

“Not yet,” I had to admit.

I had not expected my first week back in Staal to be this eventful. Perhaps writing this down would help me, someday.

In a way, this is the day my story begins…

Close Chapter

0 1 2 3 4 5 6

Rafael

Year 1275AD
Staal

“How do you feel, My Young Prince?”

On its face, that was a simple question, and yet I did not quite know how to answer it. For one, its tone almost seemed to mock me.

Yes, after three years of absence, I would have preferred to have my family welcome me home, and to not have every meal for the past week by myself, but I had not expected it. We are not the most sentimental of people, anyway.

Still, it did feel good to be back.

Read More

Despite the many changes within and beyond the Castle, the view across our balcony had remained the same. The dull, limestone mountains to our North looked just the same, under the pale blue sky. The quarrying operations were probably being conducted further to the North.

It was the city itself that had undergone the largest change during my absence, and I could not wait to explore it. There was much to do within the Castle though, at least until Father arrived, and the least I could do in the interim was reacquaint myself with pulse of the people.

“I have never been better, Uncle Yaegar,” I replied, meaning every word of it. “Actually, I was just about to leave for the range.”

I was actually trying to avoid Count Yaegar, whose paradoxical existence had always puzzled me. On one hand, I always found the way handled himself, with his wispy grey hair falling all over his face, and his unusual, sing-song voice, unsettling at the least, and revolting at the worst; on the other, I could not ignore his prodigious intellectual insights on all matters regarding Our Land.

After all, Father would not simply hand over the title of Governor of the frontier town of Dresden light. He was definitely a trusted ally, and a man I could learn a lot from, but just not taking offence to his manner took too much effort.

“I actually came to speak about something important,” he said, grinning sheepishly. “There is a matter that needs attention, and I do not have the authority to take the decision.”

I simply nodded, unfastening my quiver and placing it on the shelf. Despite royal blood running through their veins, the Yaegars did not have much power outside the province of Dresden. Without wasting another moment, we made our way to the Court.

I was surprised to see the crowd waiting for us inside, especially considering Father was away. One man, dressed in black robes, his arms and legs shackled, was escorted in by the guards

It was evident from the locket around his neck that he was like one of the many zealots I had had the misfortune of meeting, during my travels. What always baffled me was the fact that these sects seemed to be exclusively composed of unusually dense young men.

I quietly took my place to the right of the stone seat. The Count simply stood behind me. Somehow, at the very moment, his presence felt reassuring. The captain of the guards approached me, and sought permission to initiate the proceedings. I nodded.

“Your Highness,” he spoke, his voice impassive but firm, as is expected from a Heiligesian soldier. “This man was caught assaulting an elderly civilian, in the east quadrant of the city. As of now, we have charged him with assault with intent to murder. However, considering the situation, we could only hold him for another day without trial, and we were afraid he might try to flee.”

“I understand,” I replied, while my eyes scanned the crowd. “Is the victim present here? We would like to hear his testimony.”

“Actually, he is still in the infirmary,” the captain explained. “The injuries were severe.”

“What do you have to say, in your defence?” I asked the accused. I was conscious of the blood rushing into my cheeks, and tried to not let it show.

“Your Highness, it is a simple situation,” he began, and I could already feel myself losing control. “That heretic deserved it. He dared to defy our teachings. It is an insult to Our Lord, and the law of the land grants us the right to pass judgement on—”

“Such insolence?” I snarled, rising from my seat. “The land grants us, and only us, the right to pass judgement on the citizens of Staal. Know your place.”

“It is you who is being foolish, Child! Even your father has not dared to defy us! The Lord will smite—”

This time, I could not hold myself back anymore. Walking up to the man, I punched him straight into his throat, simply to make him stop spouting nonsense. As I prepared to hit him again, a firm hand grasp my shoulder. I stopped.

“I have reached a decision,” I proclaimed. “This is not a simple act of violence, but a challenge to the authority of the Crown. Such a transgression cannot be pardoned. First, brand him on the forehead. Even if he flees, he shall never hide. And second, extract the names of his comrades. They shall all be brought to justice.”

❖      ❖     ❖      ❖     ❖

“I must apologise for my behaviour, Uncle,” I sighed, as we walked along the corridor. “That was unbecoming of my position.”

“I liked it,” he replied, a manic look flashing in his green eyes. “One cannot lead a kingdom without passion. However, you may have made a powerful enemy, today… Or maybe exposed one who already existed… I wonder…”

“What do you mean?”

“Listen, Young Prince, I am going to tell you something that no doctrine will ever teach you. Our People are too proud to admit this, but never fail to preach… Pride comes before the fall.”

He paused for a moment, waiting for my response, but I had none. Once again, I was caught between the dilemma of the man’s manner and wisdom. However, I knew it stood to reason that I hear him out, and I motioned him to continue.

“The Heiligesian army has never been defeated in direct battle,” he said, his voice lower than I had ever heard. “Battles were lost by proud kings who failed to see the strength of the enemy within. Your Father was the first to realise this, and he has since stopped and sought to forge peace with our neighbours. He has made friends beyond our borders, in his bid to hunt down the enemies within.”

“I think I understand,” I replied. That was, however, a lie, but I did know it would be important in the years to come. I would have to remember these words, and think over them.

“Have you been writing your experiences, like they would have told you?” he asked, looking straight through my pretence.

“Not yet,” I had to admit.

I had not expected my first week back in Staal to be this eventful. Perhaps writing this down would help me, someday.

In a way, this is the day my story begins…

Close Chapter


Edward and Byron

Year 1275AD
Ostra

“Any thoughts, Your Highness?”

Edward did not respond. He just stared beyond the parapet, his feet rooted to the floor. Somehow, he still did not feel safe.

“How high is it?” Byron asked instead, his face, as usual, showed more fascination than fear.

“Ah! About thirty feet, Your Highness,” Captain Reiner replied, grinning.

“It is not much taller than that of Torden, then. The Wall of Lumiere is twice as tall, is it not?”

“Yes, it is, Your Highness. However, Ostra already has enough natural fortification towards three sides, and as you already know, Torden suffers from other constraints.”

Read More

Byron leaned over the parapet, much to his cousin’s chagrin. Taking a deep breath, he spat towards the ground, and observed it slowly falling through the air, and glittering under the noon sun.

“Sheesh, Byron!” Ed exclaimed, appalled at this display of audacity. “Stop it right now.”

“Now, now, let us not fight just yet,” Reiner interjected. “Although that is partly why we came up here.”

Upon hearing this, Edward froze completely, his eyes now fixed on the captain’s mouth.

“That is not what I meant,” Reiner clarified as he continued, suppressing a chortles. “His Majesty wishes to test your military acumen, and has charged me to conduct a little test. The premise is simple—Prince Byron is to lay siege to the City of Ostra, and Prince Edward is to defend. You both get to choose two hundred of Arrkaya’s finest warriors for your campaign. Observe the city, and the land around it, and tell me your strategy.”

“Why do I have to defend?” Edward protested shakily.

“It was His Majesty’s will,” was Reiner’s response, his raised nose and his shut eyes seemed to accentuate his already equine features.

“What time of the day?” Byron asked, his blue eyes glinting with enthusiasm. “And how is the weather? How many—”

“An invader would have to consider all possibilities, and come up with the best solution.”

Byron fell quiet. He had realised that since neither of the two had ever been here before, Ostra was an extremely fair location. It was not unlike King Edward to set such tests for them, but this one had definitely surpassed the rest. He could also understand that their appointed roles were actually the opposite of what their fathers had chosen, during the war.

Within minutes, his mind had come up with a few solutions, but he knew they were not the best. Ostra had, after all, been an integral part of Arrkaya, ever since its very inception. It had borne Heiligesian offence at its peak, and had never fallen. In comparison, even Torden seemed weak. Even from a distance, the fortification around the city seemed quite strong, with one gate towards the west, and other towards the east. He observed the locations, as plan begun to take form.

Surprisingly, it was Ed who answered first. Captain Reiner quickly led him out of earshot, before asking him to proceed. Gently running a hand through his short, golden hair, Ed began.

“Firstly, it is fair to assume that the enemy would depend on catapults, to break into the city, and later into the castle. Therefore, engaging from the fortification is not a great idea. Instead, I would command the soldiers atop the fort wall to just drop the portcullis, and hide inside houses along the way towards the centre of the city. Breaking through the gateway would take a few minutes, which would allow the civilians to escape into the castle. Then, the Castle Gate can be shut.

“The only threat that remains is the catapults. It is widely known that normal soldiers cannot operate catapults; one would require special training to operate them. And these men would be towards the end of an invading force. They can be handled by the soldiers hiding inside the houses. This way, we minimise our losses, and weaken the enemy, till the reinforcements can arrive.”

Reiner acknowledged with a gentle nod. He could not quite show it yet, but he was thoroughly impressed. Although the answer was far from perfect, while also being rather vaguely worded, it was better than he had expected from a young prince who had had no real experience. He expectantly turned towards Byron, who stood deep in thought.

“This city is rather small,” Byron finally remarked. “And the East Gate is somewhat closer to the Castle. Is that why the Castle Gate is towards the south?”

“That is a very astute observation, Your Highness.”

“That fact can hurt us… See, since the city has two gates, the force of the defence can never completely focus on one side. It just cannot happen. On the other hand, once the invader has entered the city, the Castle Gate becomes the singular focus of the offence. In such a situation, catapults will become vital.”

Byron continued to speak for what seemed like half an hour. By the end, Edward had begrudgingly accepted defeat, silently muttering something about vengeance, while Byron continued jeering. Reiner, on the other hand, had been left completely speechless. His mind was filled with concern for his city. Never before had anybody broken through their defences, even in theory.

It is almost strange how similar they both are to their fathers, he noted, under his breath. The Shield and the Spear of Arrkaya remain strong… Our future is in safe hands.

“Lunch has been served. We were waiting.”

Reiner’s thoughts were interrupted by the voice of a boy speaking to the two princes. He could not help but wonder who the kid was. Somehow, he had not noticed him in the entourage, the day before. His entire face being obscured, by the shaggy, red hair and the oversized scarf, did not help either. And yet, he spoke to the royalty as if he was one of them.

Reiner moved towards them, having made up his mind to teach the brat some manners, when a sudden breeze moved the hair off his face. He felt a chill down his spine, as he caught a glimpse of the large scar on his cheek. In that instant, their eyes met. Those cold, grey eyes… Somehow, they left him frozen.

Who is this kid?

Close Chapter

0 1 2 3 4 5 6

Edward and Byron

Year 1275AD
Ostra

“Any thoughts, Your Highness?”

Edward did not respond. He just stared beyond the parapet, his feet rooted to the floor. Somehow, he still did not feel safe.

“How high is it?” Byron asked instead, his face, as usual, showed more fascination than fear.

“Ah! About thirty feet, Your Highness,” Captain Reiner replied, grinning.

Read More

“It is not much taller than that of Torden, then. The Wall of Lumiere is twice as tall, is it not?”

“Yes, it is, Your Highness. However, Ostra already has enough natural fortification towards three sides, and as you already know, Torden suffers from other constraints.”

Byron leaned over the parapet, much to his cousin’s chagrin. Taking a deep breath, he spat towards the ground, and observed it slowly falling through the air, and glittering under the noon sun.

“Sheesh, Byron!” Ed exclaimed, appalled at this display of audacity. “Stop it right now.”

“Now, now, let us not fight just yet,” Reiner interjected. “Although that is partly why we came up here.”

Upon hearing this, Edward froze completely, his eyes now fixed on the captain’s mouth.

“That is not what I meant,” Reiner clarified as he continued, suppressing a chortles. “His Majesty wishes to test your military acumen, and has charged me to conduct a little test. The premise is simple—Prince Byron is to lay siege to the City of Ostra, and Prince Edward is to defend. You both get to choose two hundred of Arrkaya’s finest warriors for your campaign. Observe the city, and the land around it, and tell me your strategy.”

“Why do I have to defend?” Edward protested shakily.

“It was His Majesty’s will,” was Reiner’s response, his raised nose and his shut eyes seemed to accentuate his already equine features.

“What time of the day?” Byron asked, his blue eyes glinting with enthusiasm. “And how is the weather? How many—”

“An invader would have to consider all possibilities, and come up with the best solution.”

Byron fell quiet. He had realised that since neither of the two had ever been here before, Ostra was an extremely fair location. It was not unlike King Edward to set such tests for them, but this one had definitely surpassed the rest. He could also understand that their appointed roles were actually the opposite of what their fathers had chosen, during the war.

Within minutes, his mind had come up with a few solutions, but he knew they were not the best. Ostra had, after all, been an integral part of Arrkaya, ever since its very inception. It had borne Heiligesian offence at its peak, and had never fallen. In comparison, even Torden seemed weak. Even from a distance, the fortification around the city seemed quite strong, with one gate towards the west, and other towards the east. He observed the locations, as plan begun to take form.

Surprisingly, it was Ed who answered first. Captain Reiner quickly led him out of earshot, before asking him to proceed. Gently running a hand through his short, golden hair, Ed began.

“Firstly, it is fair to assume that the enemy would depend on catapults, to break into the city, and later into the castle. Therefore, engaging from the fortification is not a great idea. Instead, I would command the soldiers atop the fort wall to just drop the portcullis, and hide inside houses along the way towards the centre of the city. Breaking through the gateway would take a few minutes, which would allow the civilians to escape into the castle. Then, the Castle Gate can be shut.

“The only threat that remains is the catapults. It is widely known that normal soldiers cannot operate catapults; one would require special training to operate them. And these men would be towards the end of an invading force. They can be handled by the soldiers hiding inside the houses. This way, we minimise our losses, and weaken the enemy, till the reinforcements can arrive.”

Reiner acknowledged with a gentle nod. He could not quite show it yet, but he was thoroughly impressed. Although the answer was far from perfect, while also being rather vaguely worded, it was better than he had expected from a young prince who had had no real experience. He expectantly turned towards Byron, who stood deep in thought.

“This city is rather small,” Byron finally remarked. “And the East Gate is somewhat closer to the Castle. Is that why the Castle Gate is towards the south?”

“That is a very astute observation, Your Highness.”

“That fact can hurt us… See, since the city has two gates, the force of the defence can never completely focus on one side. It just cannot happen. On the other hand, once the invader has entered the city, the Castle Gate becomes the singular focus of the offence. In such a situation, catapults will become vital.”

Byron continued to speak for what seemed like half an hour. By the end, Edward had begrudgingly accepted defeat, silently muttering something about vengeance, while Byron continued jeering. Reiner, on the other hand, had been left completely speechless. His mind was filled with concern for his city. Never before had anybody broken through their defences, even in theory.

It is almost strange how similar they both are to their fathers, he noted, under his breath. The Shield and the Spear of Arrkaya remain strong… Our future is in safe hands.

“Lunch has been served. We were waiting.”

Reiner’s thoughts were interrupted by the voice of a boy speaking to the two princes. He could not help but wonder who the kid was. Somehow, he had not noticed him in the entourage, the day before. His entire face being obscured, by the shaggy, red hair and the oversized scarf, did not help either. And yet, he spoke to the royalty as if he was one of them.

Reiner moved towards them, having made up his mind to teach the brat some manners, when a sudden breeze moved the hair off his face. He felt a chill down his spine, as he caught a glimpse of the large scar on his cheek. In that instant, their eyes met. Those cold, grey eyes… Somehow, they left him frozen.

Who is this kid?

Close Chapter


Trisha and Serafina

Year 1278AD
Karakaya

Trisha took a deep breath, as she started walking towards the arena, her high ponytail bobbing with every step. As always, a hundred eyes followed her every move, but this was the first time she really noticed it. This was the first time the attention felt disconcerting. This was the first time it really mattered.

Wiping the sweat off her brow, she steeled herself for what was poised to be the toughest, and the most important day of her life. Her dream of being chosen as the youngest member of the Seven Heads was just a single step away, and a completely unexpected obstacle stood in her way.

Serafina lay on the rocky floor, basking beneath the noon sun when the clamorous crowd caught her attention. Squinting her eyes, she watched as men and women alike fawned over Trisha. With a derisive snort, she sprung back to her feet and meandered towards her sister.

“You left quite early, tonight,” commented Trisha, once they had exchanged the customary greetings. “I had hoped we would walk here together.”

“I like sitting here, by myself,” Serafina replied icily. “It is quiet.”

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“I can understand,” she agreed, shooting a quick glance towards the crowd, that grew larger and louder, every passing moment. “Well, do your best, sister. May The Lord be with you.”

“You cannot possibly mean that…”

“You are being rude,” Trisha said, with a soft smile, before placing her hand on her sister’s head. “If you do defeat me, I will be nothing but proud.”

Serafina did not respond in words. She simply nodded. The tag of underdog was not new to her, having bourn it for fifteen years now. Many had been baffled when she laid claim for the coveted position of a head, but without the weight of expectation on her shoulder, she had risen fast and farther than the other contenders, and now stood as the final hurdle in her sister’s glorious campaign.

Trisha stood beaming, as their father, Beye Yildirim, addressed the crowd, and spoke of his daughters’ achievements, and how proud he was at the very moment. Serafina, however, was barely listening. She could not wait for the pleasantries to conclude, and for the real task to begin.

Finally, the girls were led to a sheer cliff, where they were greeted by the leader of Arzi, their grandmother, Amma Gulizar. Behind her, towards the edge of the cliff, were two men, gagged and bound to wood stakes. Armed guards had sealed every other exit. The crowd had gone silent.

“As you might know,” Gulizar began, her voice stronger than her stature might suggest, “Karim was found murdered, last night. He had been stabbed through the neck. The person who killed him stands here, on this cliff. You are to interrogate one man each, find the culprit, and carry out the punishment. The Seven Heads must be decisive and swift.

The girls nodded, and walked towards their respective suspects. As she recognised the man standing in front of her eyes, Trisha smiled. This man was a known miscreant, and had twice been publicly flogged. Such scum did not deserve to reside in Karakaya, anyway. His execution would certainly be good riddance. However, Trisha paused to consider the other suspect.

Serafina marched forward, her eyes fixed at those of her suspect. She could already see him whimpering, as she drew a dagger from her belt, and raised it in the air. In a swift motion, she cut through the ropes binding him so abruptly that he fell to his knees.

“Take this,” she said, dropping the dagger by his foot, “and fight me. If you win, you live.”

The man trembled at the sight of the shining blade. He looked up, towards Serafina, the sun shining behind her short, golden hair, as she began walking away from him. Using this opportunity, he bolted away from the stake, intent on disappearing into the crowd. The guards, however, alert to this possibility, stopped him almost immediately.

“He is innocent, Amma,” Serafina proclaimed, looking Gulizar straight into the eye. She had not even turned back, to see the result of her little stunt. “He is a coward and a weakling, not worth the bread he eats, but he is not a killer. There is no way he could have killed a warrior like Karim.”

Trisha turned around, and watched, as Amma Gulizar patted Serafina on the shoulder. Her sister’s antics had always caught her unawares, but this time it had worked to her advantage. Every trace of doubt had been wiped off her mind.

Decisive and swift, she repeated under her breath, drawing her dagger and calming her nerves. Decisive and swift…

She lunged forward, determined to thrust the blade deep into the culprit’s heart.

“STOP!”

In one fluid, distinctly feline motion, she turned the dagger in her hand, letting her fist fall almost harmlessly on the man’s chest. She sprang back, as a warm liquid seeped down his groin and along his leg.

“Let us rejoice, people of Arzi,” Gulizar proclaimed. “Here, before your eyes, stands Serafina, the Fierce, One of the Seven!”

“But—” was all Trisha could elicit from her throat, before her voice was drowned out by the cheering crowd.

“I said the person who killed Karim stands here,” explained Gulizar, her golden eyes glinting. “I did not say man. Karim was a traitor. I confronted him, and I stabbed him. A leader of the people must always be decisive and swift, but never prejudiced or impetuous. You are competent, Trisha, but you still have a lot to learn.”

Trisha nodded and walked away, as the ceremony began. For its entire length, she could feel the blood burning in her eyes. She looked towards her sister, who looked equally ill at ease, and put on a brave smile. Somehow, she found the strength, deep within herself, to stand there till it all ended.

“We do have a plan for you, dear,” Yildirim told her, as they passed the cliff. “As Amma grows old, I would need to stay here more often, and I want you to replace me as the ambassador to Arrkaya.”

“Do you think I am ready, Father?” she asked, her eyes still moist.

“Oh, absolutely!”

Serafina watched as her father led Trisha back to the citadel. For an entire minute, she could not avert her gaze. Then, raising her head and tugging her hair back, she let out a quick snort. The sun still shone bright in the sky. Her eyes watered, as she stared into its fiery light…

Close Chapter

 
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Trisha and Serafina

Year 1278AD
Karakaya

Trisha took a deep breath, as she started walking towards the arena, her high ponytail bobbing with every step. As always, a hundred eyes followed her every move, but this was the first time she really noticed it. This was the first time the attention felt disconcerting. This was the first time it really mattered.

Wiping the sweat off her brow, she steeled herself for what was poised to be the toughest, and the most important day of her life. Her dream of being chosen as the youngest member of the Seven Heads was just a single step away, and a completely unexpected obstacle stood in her way.

Read More

Serafina lay on the rocky floor, basking beneath the noon sun when the clamorous crowd caught her attention. Squinting her eyes, she watched as men and women alike fawned over Trisha. With a derisive snort, she sprung back to her feet and meandered towards her sister.

“You left quite early, tonight,” commented Trisha, once they had exchanged the customary greetings. “I had hoped we would walk here together.”

“I like sitting here, by myself,” Serafina replied icily. “It is quiet.”

“I can understand,” she agreed, shooting a quick glance towards the crowd, that grew larger and louder, every passing moment. “Well, do your best, sister. May The Lord be with you.”

“You cannot possibly mean that…”

“You are being rude,” Trisha said, with a soft smile, before placing her hand on her sister’s head. “If you do defeat me, I will be nothing but proud.”

Serafina did not respond in words. She simply nodded. The tag of underdog was not new to her, having bourn it for fifteen years now. Many had been baffled when she laid claim for the coveted position of a head, but without the weight of expectation on her shoulder, she had risen fast and farther than the other contenders, and now stood as the final hurdle in her sister’s glorious campaign.

Trisha stood beaming, as their father, Beye Yildirim, addressed the crowd, and spoke of his daughters’ achievements, and how proud he was at the very moment. Serafina, however, was barely listening. She could not wait for the pleasantries to conclude, and for the real task to begin.

Finally, the girls were led to a sheer cliff, where they were greeted by the leader of Arzi, their grandmother, Amma Gulizar. Behind her, towards the edge of the cliff, were two men, gagged and bound to wood stakes. Armed guards had sealed every other exit. The crowd had gone silent.

“As you might know,” Gulizar began, her voice stronger than her stature might suggest, “Karim was found murdered, last night. He had been stabbed through the neck. The person who killed him stands here, on this cliff. You are to interrogate one man each, find the culprit, and carry out the punishment. The Seven Heads must be decisive and swift.

The girls nodded, and walked towards their respective suspects. As she recognised the man standing in front of her eyes, Trisha smiled. This man was a known miscreant, and had twice been publicly flogged. Such scum did not deserve to reside in Karakaya, anyway. His execution would certainly be good riddance. However, Trisha paused to consider the other suspect.

Serafina marched forward, her eyes fixed at those of her suspect. She could already see him whimpering, as she drew a dagger from her belt, and raised it in the air. In a swift motion, she cut through the ropes binding him so abruptly that he fell to his knees.

“Take this,” she said, dropping the dagger by his foot, “and fight me. If you win, you live.”

The man trembled at the sight of the shining blade. He looked up, towards Serafina, the sun shining behind her short, golden hair, as she began walking away from him. Using this opportunity, he bolted away from the stake, intent on disappearing into the crowd. The guards, however, alert to this possibility, stopped him almost immediately.

“He is innocent, Amma,” Serafina proclaimed, looking Gulizar straight into the eye. She had not even turned back, to see the result of her little stunt. “He is a coward and a weakling, not worth the bread he eats, but he is not a killer. There is no way he could have killed a warrior like Karim.”

Trisha turned around, and watched, as Amma Gulizar patted Serafina on the shoulder. Her sister’s antics had always caught her unawares, but this time it had worked to her advantage. Every trace of doubt had been wiped off her mind.

Decisive and swift, she repeated under her breath, drawing her dagger and calming her nerves. Decisive and swift…

She lunged forward, determined to thrust the blade deep into the culprit’s heart.

“STOP!”

In one fluid, distinctly feline motion, she turned the dagger in her hand, letting her fist fall almost harmlessly on the man’s chest. She sprang back, as a warm liquid seeped down his groin and along his leg.

“Let us rejoice, people of Arzi,” Gulizar proclaimed. “Here, before your eyes, stands Serafina, the Fierce, One of the Seven!”

“But—” was all Trisha could elicit from her throat, before her voice was drowned out by the cheering crowd.

“I said the person who killed Karim stands here,” explained Gulizar, her golden eyes glinting. “I did not say man. Karim was a traitor. I confronted him, and I stabbed him. A leader of the people must always be decisive and swift, but never prejudiced or impetuous. You are competent, Trisha, but you still have a lot to learn.”

Trisha nodded and walked away, as the ceremony began. For its entire length, she could feel the blood burning in her eyes. She looked towards her sister, who looked equally ill at ease, and put on a brave smile. Somehow, she found the strength, deep within herself, to stand there till it all ended.

“We do have a plan for you, dear,” Yildirim told her, as they passed the cliff. “As Amma grows old, I would need to stay here more often, and I want you to replace me as the ambassador to Arrkaya.”

“Do you think I am ready, Father?” she asked, her eyes still moist.

“Oh, absolutely!”

Serafina watched as her father led Trisha back to the citadel. For an entire minute, she could not avert her gaze. Then, raising her head and tugging her hair back, she let out a quick snort. The sun still shone bright in the sky. Her eyes watered, as she stared into its fiery light…

Close Chapter


Dorian

Year 1278AD
Torden

The scent of wet mud greeted Dorian, as his horse trotted towards the city. The mission had been long and arduous, across the dry, bleak plains to the south of Ostra. It was good to finally be home.

Home, he wondered. Do I even have one?

The sound of horse's hooves on the soft ground, in conjugation with his own feelings of fatigue and relief, had lulled him into a drowse.

He heard a woman whimper, as she tightly clutched the hem of her gown, tears streaming down her face. The blood on her hands was definitely her own. He had seen this before. He knew.

"What are you looking at?" he heard the gruff voice of a burly man, followed by a smack to the head that sent him sprawling across the small room.

He could see the man advancing towards her. He could see the terror in her eyes. He could hear a dull thud, as her head bounced off the wall and landed on the cold floor. He could see the blood spilling out, drenching her wispy auburn hair. After that, all he saw was red... His hands, his tunic, the knife at his feet, the wall to his side... They were all red...

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The sudden change of sounds, as he entered the paved roads of the city, had roused him. He wiped the sweat off his brow and adjusted himself in the saddle. He had almost arrived.

❖      ❖     ❖      ❖     ❖

"Who is carrying the message?" Commander Kray asked, rising from his seat.

"A young scout," his aide replied. "A scrawny little kid with red hair and a scar across his cheek."

"Dorian?" muttered Kray, absent-mindedly scratching his chin. "Well, that is a surprise..."

"You know him, Commander?" he inquired, surprised that the Commander of the army of the entire kingdom would personally know a lowly scout.

"I helped him out," Kray continued in his usual manner, "during the port-side situation we had, last year."

"You mean... He is THAT boy?"

"Yes, Damien, he is that boy," he said, as he made his way out of the room, towards the lobby where Dorian had been asked to wait. Damien, intrigued by this mysterious kid, decided to diligently follow.

"What does Garfield have for me? Kray asked, upon having seen the young scout.

"Greetings, Commander," Dorian meekly replied, handing over a small scroll, "Captain Garfield has forwarded this."

"It looks like a cipher," Kray observed, peering into the piece of parchment. "I do not recognise these runes, though. Why did the Lumiere division not handle it?"

"They tried, Commander, but they failed. Captain Garfield has dispatched a messenger to Oldenburg, to look for any documents that might help."

"I see. Damien, forward this to the cryptographers. We need a swift response."

❖      ❖     ❖      ❖     ❖

Dorian walked out of the barracks feeling pleased. It had been a year since that night... The night he lost his home, his childhood, his innocence... The fact that he was not in prison, or worse, had once felt like a burden; it was now a responsibility.

He had already received orders for the next mission—a month long training programme. He did not complain. Having already completed his mandatory year as a scout, he was now on his way to become a real soldier.

He knew he had not atoned for his sins, just yet. He still did have a long way to go.

He smiled, as the smell of wet mud brought back warm memories of a time long past. The drizzling rain poured over his head, washing his tears away.

Yes, I am home...

Close Chapter

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Dorian

Year 1278AD
Torden

The scent of wet mud greeted Dorian, as his horse trotted towards the city. The mission had been long and arduous, across the dry, bleak plains to the south of Ostra. It was good to finally be home.

Home, he wondered. Do I even have one?

The sound of horse's hooves on the soft ground, in conjugation with his own feelings of fatigue and relief, had lulled him into a drowse.

Read More

He heard a woman whimper, as she tightly clutched the hem of her gown, tears streaming down her face. The blood on her hands was definitely her own. He had seen this before. He knew.

"What are you looking at?" he heard the gruff voice of a burly man, followed by a smack to the head that sent him sprawling across the small room.

He could see the man advancing towards her.
He could see the terror in her eyes.
He could hear a dull thud, as her head bounced off the wall and landed on the cold floor.

He could see the blood spilling out, drenching her wispy auburn hair.
After that, all he saw was red... His hands, his tunic, the knife at his feet, the wall to his side...
They were all red...

The sudden change of sounds, as he entered the paved roads of the city, had roused him. He wiped the sweat off his brow and adjusted himself in the saddle. He had almost arrived.

❖      ❖     ❖      ❖     ❖

"Who is carrying the message?" Commander Kray asked, rising from his seat.

"A young scout," his aide replied. "A scrawny little kid with red hair and a scar across his cheek."

"Dorian?" muttered Kray, absent-mindedly scratching his chin. "Well, that is a surprise..."

"You know him, Commander?" he inquired, surprised that the Commander of the army of the entire kingdom would personally know a lowly scout.

"I helped him out," Kray continued in his usual manner, "during the port-side situation we had, last year."

"You mean... He is THAT boy?"

"Yes, Damien, he is that boy," he said, as he made his way out of the room, towards the lobby where Dorian had been asked to wait. Damien, intrigued by this mysterious kid, decided to diligently follow.

"What does Garfield have for me? Kray asked, upon having seen the young scout.

"Greetings, Commander," Dorian meekly replied, handing over a small scroll, "Captain Garfield has forwarded this."

"It looks like a cipher," Kray observed, peering into the piece of parchment. "I do not recognise these runes, though. Why did the Lumiere division not handle it?"

"They tried, Commander, but they failed. Captain Garfield has dispatched a messenger to Oldenburg, to look for any documents that might help."

"I see. Damien, forward this to the cryptographers. We need a swift response."

❖      ❖     ❖      ❖     ❖

Dorian walked out of the barracks feeling pleased. It had been a year since that night... The night he lost his home, his childhood, his innocence... The fact that he was not in prison, or worse, had once felt like a burden; it was now a responsibility.

He had already received orders for the next mission—a month long training programme. He did not complain. Having already completed his mandatory year as a scout, he was now on his way to become a real soldier.

He knew he had not atoned for his sins, just yet. He still did have a long way to go.

He smiled, as the smell of wet mud brought back warm memories of a time long past. The drizzling rain poured over his head, washing his tears away.

Yes, I am home...

Close Chapter


Rolf and Carlos

Year 1276AD
Bleda

"—and now, we can all but pray that his soul finds, in his passing, the peace he sought through life."

The words were met with an obscure murmur of approval, as he placed a flower on the nondescript grave by the side of an old tavern.

The two soldiers, standing towards the end of the crowd, looked at one another, wondering if attending this particular funeral had been a good idea. Despite the many reasons to not come, they had inadvertently ended up here. The ceremony had been brief, and the words earnest, and it was almost time for them to leave.

"Hullo, gentlemen," a young man greeted them, his face lips into a weak smile. "How did you know Uncle Arnold, pray tell. I had not expected any soldiers here, today."

"Ah, well," Carlos begun, trying to piece together an answer, "we were just passing by—"

"You are not on duty, then?" he enquired, as the realisation dawned on his face. "You! You were the ones who arrested him! How dare—"

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"Calm down, Reiner," a slightly elder man interjected, running his fingers through his friend's unusually blond hair. The soldiers recognised him as the last man to speak, in the funeral. He looked much younger than his words would suggest.

"I am Leon," he continued, extending his arm for a shake. "Forgive my friend. He is in grief, as are we all. As long as you come to share our grief, you are welcome here."

"Thank you, Leon," the taller of the soldiers replied sincerely. "I am Rolf, and this is Carlos... And yes, we were the ones who had the misfortune of arresting Arnold. I have never felt more hatred for myself, than when we were escorting him to the gallows. I just HAD to come here and pay my respects."

"Then why did you get him killed!" Reiner yelled, causing the entire gathering to turn and stare at them.

"It was an order, kid," Carlos responded, his voice completely nonchalant, though he gave Rolf a long glare. "Even if we hate it, we have to follow orders."

Sensing the precarious situation, Leon led the two men closer to the tavern, leaving Reiner and the rest of the crowd behind. The small building's wooden door was hardly visible behind the overgrown shrubbery, and the months' worth of cobwebs and dust.

"It has been a while," Leon said, his brown eyes growing misty. "I cannot imagine the scrubbing it will take, to reopen it anytime soon."

"It cannot reopen, kid," Carlos replied, leaving him astounded.

"He was executed for a very major crime, Leon," Rolf explained. "All his property, including the tavern, has been seized. I am sorry."

"But he was innocent!" protested Leon, his calm exterior finally showing cracks. "You know that, do you not? The priest was lying. He could never hurt a fly, let alone burning down a cathedral."

"But he was found guilty," Carlos stated, "and that is all that matters."

Leon made his way to the window; its glass had turned opaque. A puff of dust rose into the air, as he placed his palm on the windowpane, reminiscing the happy days he spent inside.

"What about the kids?" Leon asked. "I cannot let them go back to begging on the streets. The younger ones... They will not last long, without a roof over their heads..."

Carlos took a deep breath. He had heard quite often, over the past few weeks, how Arnold took homeless children into his home, and how he looked after them. Leon, the youngest among them, was already a man, but with no land, there was no way he could look after a dozen young children.

"There is one thing you can do," he spoke, after letting out a huge sigh. "Yes, you cannot claim ownership of the tavern, but you can live inside an abandoned building. Just, be discreet, and you could survive."

Leon replied with a dismissive grunt, returning to the deep confines of his warm memories. The soldiers took his leave, and started walking away.

"You lied to him," Rolf muttered, presuming Leon was out of earshot. "That is not all that matters, does it?"

"I needed to know the truth," Carlos replied, "but he did not. And now that I do..."

"So a noble did pressure the magistrate... Did you find out who?"

"Yes, I did... It was Sir Marley."

In the distance, a young man's brown eyes narrowed...

Close Chapter

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Rolf and Carlos

Year 1276AD
Bleda

"—and now, we can all but pray that his soul finds, in his passing, the peace he sought through life."

The words were met with an obscure murmur of approval, as he placed a flower on the nondescript grave by the side of an old tavern.

The two soldiers, standing towards the end of the crowd, looked at one another, wondering if attending this particular funeral had been a good idea. Despite the many reasons to not come, they had inadvertently ended up here. The ceremony had been brief, and the words earnest, and it was almost time for them to leave.

Read More

"Hullo, gentlemen," a young man greeted them, his face lips into a weak smile. "How did you know Uncle Arnold, pray tell. I had not expected any soldiers here, today."

"Ah, well," Carlos begun, trying to piece together an answer, "we were just passing by—"

"You are not on duty, then?" he enquired, as the realisation dawned on his face. "You! You were the ones who arrested him! How dare—"

"Calm down, Reiner," a slightly elder man interjected, running his fingers through his friend's unusually blond hair. The soldiers recognised him as the last man to speak, in the funeral. He looked much younger than his words would suggest.

"I am Leon," he continued, extending his arm for a shake. "Forgive my friend. He is in grief, as are we all. As long as you come to share our grief, you are welcome here."

"Thank you, Leon," the taller of the soldiers replied sincerely. "I am Rolf, and this is Carlos... And yes, we were the ones who had the misfortune of arresting Arnold. I have never felt more hatred for myself, than when we were escorting him to the gallows. I just HAD to come here and pay my respects."

"Then why did you get him killed!" Reiner yelled, causing the entire gathering to turn and stare at them.

"It was an order, kid," Carlos responded, his voice completely nonchalant, though he gave Rolf a long glare. "Even if we hate it, we have to follow orders."

Sensing the precarious situation, Leon led the two men closer to the tavern, leaving Reiner and the rest of the crowd behind. The small building's wooden door was hardly visible behind the overgrown shrubbery, and the months' worth of cobwebs and dust.

"It has been a while," Leon said, his brown eyes growing misty. "I cannot imagine the scrubbing it will take, to reopen it anytime soon."

"It cannot reopen, kid," Carlos replied, leaving him astounded.

"He was executed for a very major crime, Leon," Rolf explained. "All his property, including the tavern, has been seized. I am sorry."

"But he was innocent!" protested Leon, his calm exterior finally showing cracks. "You know that, do you not? The priest was lying. He could never hurt a fly, let alone burning down a cathedral."

"But he was found guilty," Carlos stated, "and that is all that matters."

Leon made his way to the window; its glass had turned opaque. A puff of dust rose into the air, as he placed his palm on the windowpane, reminiscing the happy days he spent inside.

"What about the kids?" Leon asked. "I cannot let them go back to begging on the streets. The younger ones... They will not last long, without a roof over their heads..."

Carlos took a deep breath. He had heard quite often, over the past few weeks, how Arnold took homeless children into his home, and how he looked after them. Leon, the youngest among them, was already a man, but with no land, there was no way he could look after a dozen young children.

"There is one thing you can do," he spoke, after letting out a huge sigh. "Yes, you cannot claim ownership of the tavern, but you can live inside an abandoned building. Just, be discreet, and you could survive."

Leon replied with a dismissive grunt, returning to the deep confines of his warm memories. The soldiers took his leave, and started walking away.

"You lied to him," Rolf muttered, presuming Leon was out of earshot. "That is not all that matters, does it?"

"I needed to know the truth," Carlos replied, "but he did not. And now that I do..."

"So a noble did pressure the magistrate... Did you find out who?"

"Yes, I did... It was Sir Marley."

In the distance, a young man's brown eyes narrowed...

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