The threat of war has ever slumbered beneath the lands of Marion. Throughout its brutal history, the soil has been watered by the blood of many. This story is another tale of such carnage. In the year 795 CE, an empire from the far west invaded Golgotha, a land which envelops the eastern half of Marion. The two empires fought for 45 gory years and resulted in the domination of Golgotha by the western kingdom known as Azure. Yet, peace is about to reign again… but poison can be swift and futile to expose once infused.
~ A Rider At Sunset ~
~ 845 CE “2nd Season, 5th Moon, 3rd Week, 5th Day” ~
~ Golgotha’s Capitol, Elitus at Dusk
Dusty soil erupts amidst pockets of bright flowers that line the old country road. The charge of mighty hooves thunder across the open field lands. A gallant warrior travels over bittersweet pastures alongside a band of cavalry armed with rifle and spear. Their chain-mail makes a distinct jingle as the links bob against their sides. Swords and spears pepper the countryside as grave markers to fallen heroes leaving the memories of recent battles still fresh on his mind. Battles of blood and mayhem where the bodies piled high like walls and their stench lingered for miles. The screams of the young and old alike as their irons clashed against one another echoed in Guildred’s head. Shoulders high, chest thrust out, and posture erect; the rider’s flowing white cape shines ablaze in dying solar rays.
He furrows his brow and grits his teeth as he rides towards a castle obscured in a rusty haze. Panic pumps through his veins beating like a war drum. The leather of his horse’s reins creaks as he wraps the cords tightly in hand. Raising a saber, Guildred points forward towards the crumbling war-torn city gates.
He can make out a small group of guards already waiting at the gates. Raising his hand, his troop ready their spears, drawing closer; the dirt road replaced with rounded timeworn stones. The lord knight’s heart crawls into his neck as he rears his horse to a standstill before a pair of guards point their long polearms against his bare neck. An old man with snowy whiskers, deep chasmic wrinkles, and a balding head meets his gaze. The younger guard huffed with what Guildred imagines is that same unease he felt when he was a cadet on his first outing, but now was not the time to reminisce. A common fragile silence held firm; one that Guildred always found unsettling. Though, the result would be the same either way. In Guildred’s mind, it was only a question of if he would wet his blade or not. The old man’s face appeared to have recognized him as it lit up with wide eyes much to Guildred’s relief. He could not quite make out if it was fear or respect but it was clear to Guildred the man knew exactly who he is. “Lord Knight Guildred, what is the nature of this assault!?” the older man demands with a deep raspy voice.
“I’m here on personal orders from High King Grandor to protect the prince! I don’t have time for pleasantries,” Guildred roars firm with authority using his sword to brush aside the spears’ tip. “Let me through,” his commanding reply receives a quick nod, the pair of guards spring apart allowing the cavalry passage. Through the gates, Guildred directs the band of soldiers to cross the threshold like a rushing river of bestial hooves and steel points.
Elitus, it had been so long since he had seen the town appear as though it were not a fortress, Guildred thought to himself. While a place of war every street was littered with ramparts made of metal plates and wood. Even the youngest of children armed with anything to defend themselves. Now it was quiet and appeared to be peaceful though that is fast replaced by hallowed silence and prayers. Guildred’s armor-clad warriors storm the streets, shaking the earth with a rumble.
Looking down to his side, a man stands dressed in a well-worn cloak whose face fell wide-eyed with an agape mouth. Guildred had seen this face countless times before, the expression of powerlessness. Raising his posture overlooking the man, Guildred points forward sending the rear of the calvary rallying to their places; moving as a directed force, trained and expert at their task. In squads of two, they secure each junction clearing the way for the band of horses. Guildred remains composed as panic overtook the public, women pulling their curious children from the dangerous road, the men guarding the doors to their shops, slamming windows shut and fleeing from the knights.
“Traveling as a group will only hold us up with this much panic,” he grumbles to a younger man beside him. Guildred watches the alarm unfold into hysteria. “Hmmm,” he growls feeling the urgency tearing at him. “There is no time to waste.” Guildred thinks to himself. With the snap of the reigns, Guildred rides into the crowd leaving a voice trailing behind him calling out “My Lord, wait!”
Navigating by pure instinct Guildred guides his horse through the crowded city streets as people dive out of the way. In battle riding a horse is one thing, the men knew when to step aside, and when they did not, they were to be cut down, anyway. However this, Guildred thought to himself, is a game of avoidance; one he had never played before. His stomach quivers feeling collision is most definitely inevitable. His horse, rushes onward regardless of the tension they share, diving, weaving, avoiding obstacles both inanimate and living.
~ A Legacy Remains ~
The giggle of small children echoes through the cold marble chapel. An infant boy and girl play on a red blanket sprawled across the floor surrounded by seven well-dressed men in expensive attire. Their faces are covered with the masks of animals carved from painted wood. A bear, a boar, a deer, a fish, a fox, a wolf, and a bird. With clear restlessness, the bird adjusts his cufflink. A sword rests upon each of their laps. Several candles burn flickering and dancing as phantom winds move about the room; hungry for a feast, waiting for its sacrifice. Their dull whispers barely escape the room leaving their secret words to drift to their ears only.
“Wham!” A burst echoes down the hall. The men bound from their chairs as the clopping of hooves draws nearer. Forming a fast huddled mass around the children the men grab their brands. The fox points his hand at the door. The bear and the boar, the more bearly of the men rush with their sabers out the sanctuary into the hall.
The bear and the boar, with a sword in hand, take a fighting stance. “Royals,” Guildred thinks. He had always considered the other noble families to be foolish and cowards. “This pair must find themselves potent with authority,” he muses. “From their stature and attire, they are countrymen, betrayers.” Grandor’s fears were correct, Guildred feels his blood boil and grips his spear. Rushing at Guildred the boar hollers with a sense of authority “Halt.” If the situation were different Guildred might have laughed; instead, it provokes only anger. He narrows his eyes replying with unadulterated charge. His spear bores through the man’s chest with a pulpy red burst. The thrust alone sent the wooden boar mask flying from his face revealing a toothy open-jawed shout.
Guildred made it a point to peer into the man’s tear filled blue eyes. A strand of saliva snaps out of the nobleman’s mouth as he gags for air. Guildred hikes the struggling man up. The nobleman reaches for his chest latching onto the long rod. The other masked man gazing in absolute horror his body still and yet trembling. “It is as if these noblemen found themselves to be gods among men.” Guildred broods. “It is always a pleasure to show them their place.” He releases a subtle growl as he rides several feet with the impaled man roaring in agony. A thrust sends the boar’s body flying from the spear into the wall. He strikes into a tapestry causing the arras to tumble after him.
The bear jerks bucking at the knees, turning tail, running as swiftly as he can away from Guildred, who now appears like a giant brute despite his decorative silver armor. Guildred thought for a moment to pursue the man, an almost animal thrill for the hunt coming over him. However, he thought better of it as his aim is through the large open chapel doors before him. Guildred lifts the bloody spear to inspect its tip. Royal meat hung from its end, bent and of no use now. He was in no desperate need for range anyways he considers. Tossing the spear onto the ground, it rolls daubing a bloody line in its wake. Riding through the sanctuaries open doors, the other men back away trembling. Like a swooping bird, Guildred leaps off his horse rising to his feet, saber drawn. The men point their ceremony blades in Guildred’s direction.
The brave knight directs his own polished blade at the three yelling “Drop your swords in the name of Lord King Grandor!” He huffs turning his body at an angle. His mouth is down turned and his gaze locks onto the unharmed children, relief or something like that coming over him.
“Sir Guildred, you must understand,” yelps the bird raising his hands.
“Of course, pleading their case already?” Guildred thought to himself. He shook his head abruptly spotting to the left of him is the wolf, charging forward hollering “Quick kill the child!” in a gruff voice.
Guildred reaches for his throwing dagger when he notices the fox standing over the young boy. “It must be finished.” the fox yells raising his sword over the baby boy. In one fluid motion, Guildred throws the small dagger across the room. It lands square in the fox’s throat. Knife in neck, the man tumbles backward squelching, blood bubbling, spilling onto the floor. Rolling on the ground, the fox raises his hand reaching for the hem of his co-conspirator’s cloak letting a high-pitched squeak escape his neck.
Guildred’s sights dart up just in time to see a dramatic swing aimed at his head. “Clang!” Guildred parries the wolf’s attack, their two blades moil, groping, sliding, and without ceremony, end their flash dance with a poke in the ribs. The man drops to his knees releasing his sword reaching for the edge stuck in the lung. Blood paints through his white shirt in broad wet strokes. Guildred expels his weapon effortlessly as he had plunged it in. The colored saber drips onto the ground leaving a small puddle. The man’s own heartbeat betraying him as the wound becomes a fountain. The two children’s shrieks are now noticed following wailing tears and youthful squeals of discomfort.
Jittering, the deer, and fish drop their brands. The bird too startled to do much of anything. Behind Guildred, a procession of other soldiers swarms the room baring their spears. The bird cries “Mercy!” Guildred’s sapphire gaze turned to him. From his voice, Guildred could tell he is a rather young man. His hands raise into the air. The bird’s sword rolling out of his grip landing on the floor with a “Clunk,” raising his mask revealing a face flush a shade of pink Guildred had never seen before. His eyes, puffy, sullen, filling with streaming tears “I had no part in this!”
All was silent aside from the crying children, only breaking with Guildred’s first step. It was a metallic clank of a step. Its weightiness only made more clear with the chapel’s ringing. Each tread slow and deliberate “clank, clank, clank,” his approach makes the men cower. Guildred stands over the infants. Noisily releasing the leather strap of his right hand drawing a quiver from the men. He did it again with the left arousing a similar reaction. “Bang, Bang,” the gauntlets fall from his arms, fingers sprawling, open palm.
Guildred squats down lifting the kids off the ground. “How can I stop their cries?” Guildred thought to himself. That is when he remembered what his maid mother used to do with his brothers and sisters. The noble warrior gently bounces, cradling the pair while humming a song he knew from the bards. Russet brown infantile hands clung snugly against his silver breastplate. Soon their sobbing ended. Raising to his feet Guildred does not even bother to glance at the others. His soldiers part as Guildred walks across the sanctuary’s purple carpet. His humming pauses to say “Arrest them,” and he resumes his croon continuing out the room.
“Please! Mercy!” a shout echoes, mercy being the last thing he deserved Guildred judged.
A manly pink digit wags against the cheek of the young girl’s rosy sepia face. Her violet eyes glanced up at Guildred’s sharp diamond features, crystal blues look back framed by sandy blond locks. Her violet jewels hid away behind ruddy brown eyelids. She falls limp against Guildred’s forearm. A smile crosses his face. “Rest well, Princess Talumn.”
Echoes follow Guildred “Clomp, Clomp, Clomp,” goes the marching feet of six soldiers. In the other arm, the young babe of a boy kicks, struggling, curling and winding in the brave knight’s hold, beating his hands and feet against the metal plate. “Papa!” he shouts causing a stir in Talumn’s slumber.
“Silly kid,” Guildred says as a lump forms in his throat. “Your father is coming don’t you worry.” He fought to hold back tears knowing the truth, his father laid dead. Guildred stops at a large silver door embossed with the image of a winged man reaching up to the clouds. It opens in the middle revealing a circular room with transparent walls and a view of the village. The young boy tugs at Guildred’s white cloak squirming to get free. Four other soldiers enter the room with the three. The silver doors shut, the room rises, expanding the view of the city while they climb higher. Guildred point’s at the window saying “Look, Illian.” The boy’s blues light up with fascination. Illian turned his head slowly and smiled up at Guildred. “I thought that might make you smile. Your kingdom. Don’t forget it.” Guildred warned with a thick voice. “Young prince you get to leave this madness tonight.”
The climb lasted for what seemed like hours but in truth, less than minutes. When they stop, the silver doors open to reveal a black sky with a massive red shining moon. The four soldiers rush, running across the castle’s reach. Guildred marches into the warm summer wind. “It’s all clear.” a soldier calls.
“We are gonna get you kids out of here.” In the distant Guildred watches a massive airship en route. To Guildred, the goliath looks like a flying stronghold. In reality, it is far smaller but anything flying of that size well deserves such a title. As it drew closer, its blue-white landing lights shine blinding the group. Guildred’s cape cracks in the gusts generated by the large ship while it anchors itself to the castle’s wall. A long metal board drops off the side of the airship’s deck landing with a loud clang.
Guildred squints his eyes, turning ajar, shielding the children from the blinding spotlight. A pair of titanous guards covered in full blue cloaks shadows the light. Their helmets reminded Guildred of pointed metal hoods, like a bishop’s cap, only it covers their faces. These mighty soldiers stood, at least, nine feet tall barred in arm with large lance like cannons, they cross the metal bridge; their presence alone unintendedly menacing.
The light blackens for a moment as another man crosses. This time far shorter and unarmored, dressed in royal robes. The fresh-faced man calls with a loud hearty voice “Lord Knight Guildred, a pleasure it is to see you again.”
Guildred’s face lit with delight as he recognizes the man. “An honor to see you, Lord Gallion.” A childhood friend, one he trusted, at least at one point in his life. “Though the circumstances are far too grim to respect,” Guildred says all the while Illian cried loudly.
Reaching, Gallion took the two children from his arms. “They shall have a better life than they could have ever wished.” He then narrows his gaze turning Guildred’s stomach. “Was it true… did the nobles seek to kill the royal family?”
“It appears so,” Guildred replies to Gallion.
“I see,” Gallion looks over to the ship. “In that case. Kill them all,” he turns away from Guildred, his face growing tired.
“I have three of them captured… should we not question them at least.” Guildred suggests causing General Gallion to pause. “So we can understand the situation.” He adds not wanting to subvert the nobleman’s authority.
“Kill every one of them. If not for King Bridehan, we would have had lasting peace between our two kingdoms tonight. Now the balance lies in the hands of a crying baby. Leave Bridehan though… we will need him… he will be completely neutered after this.” This struck Guildred as wrong. He felt a strange suspicion there was more to what was happening than meets the eye. Doubt entered his mind as he watches Talumn sleeping in Gallion’s arms. His mind cried out “Give them back.” a part of him wants to take the children, to run away with them, run away somewhere safe. In one hand he had saved their lives tonight, on the other he had handed them over to another who would gladly do the same. He could only hope he is wrong and that Grandor would shelter them properly.
While standing on the bridge, Gallion turns back to smile at Guildred. “I trust you will take care of this for us. By morning, I suppose we will have need of new nobles. Take control of Elitus, Guildred, after ride north. Show those bastards in Tidus the actual cost of what they have done. Leave the public out of it they should not be troubled by such things.”
“Yes sir,” Guildred watches Gallion turn away and finish boarding the airship. The great guards follow and redraw the bridge onto the ship. He stands wide-eyed as the vessel ascends back to the skies. Gripping his saber he turns to the guard standing next to him. “You heard him. We have work to be done.”
23 Years Later
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