The Lines Have Been Drawn
“Good shot!” Yves exclaimed.
Ethelwulf grunted his approval as he lowered his bow. Yves and Ethewulf have been in an archery contest for the last hour, as the sun slowly rose into a full morning. Yves went to retrieve another arrow from her quiver and felt nothing. She cursed under her breath.
Prince Merrick arrived to the small archery range at the edge of the village; he held a quiver of freshly made arrows. The prince glanced at the target range, which was littered with arrows. His eyebrows raised and lowered in a spoiled surprised sort of way. He held the quiver out to Yves.
“What’s this?” she inquired.
The prince smiled, “Freshly made arrows, metal tipped.”
Yves’ jaw dropped, “For me?”
He nodded. “Only if you join us.”
She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She blinked, “Um, I-I don’t know what to say.”
“I have to ask my father. I’m his only child, he’d be worried sick.”
“Ask him. I’d be honored to have a technologist with her heart in the right place on my side.”
Yves nodded and ran off to the inner midst of the village, in search of her father. Prince Merrick was dressed differently thanks to the town’s tailor. He bore an off white poet blouse, the ruffles slightly parted to let the sun beam on his bare, pale flesh. Merrick kept his forearm plates, which nearly glistened from the newly risen sun and the white shirt which surrounded it. His pants were a mix of black and brown leather intertwined at his sides, the sheath of his golden sword rested peacefully.
He took a couple of steps closer to his bodyguard who was eyeing the target, contemplating on how to obtain more bulls eyes.
“She kept up with you with simple wood.”
Ethelwulf glanced at the prince, but said nothing.
“I think this is the village to complete our crusade. Korinthos is about fifteen leagues from here, we could easily get there by days end tomorrow,” Prince Merrick looked up at the sky. “Yes, we can do it by then. Those tyrants wouldn’t expect us to take the fight to them. Those sickles the farmers use are amazing weapons. I’m so glad we ran into those bandits yesterday. We got to see how my men fared in battle. Yes, Ethelwulf, I know those bandits were unorganized, but so were we. Though I fear we will lose most of our men in the next battle.”
Ethelwulf looked at his master at that statement. He still said nothing, but his narrow eyes raged volumes. After an uneasy moment, he turned back to the target and drew back his bow.
Prince Merrick continued, “Casualties are just a part of war, you know this. However, I’m sure after we win it will send a shockwave throughout the realm, waking every village up. If word gets out that Prince Merrick, heir to Hazar-Shual, is leading a revolution against tyranny, an uprising for liberty, others will come with fire in their bellies, a voice in their throat and a weapon in hand. The people want to be free, that’s what my uncle told me before those bloodthirsty mages sacrificed him.”
Ethelwulf turned slowly to Merrick. A soft breeze swept by, causing his beard to briefly come alive. He spoke with a low, soul filled voice, “How many have to die for you to be free?”
Merrick was half stunned. It was the first time since their kingdom had collapsed that Ethelwulf spoke. The prince regained his composure and his eyes narrowed at the question, “As many who have to. Yourself included, Ethelwulf.”
Captain Romulus swung his long sword violently at the squire. The young, bald boy, just in adolescence, backed from each swing, which was luckily shielded in its sheath. Romulus hacked at the boy, who fell to the ground with a hard thud. The captain narrowed his eyes in frustration, his red hair damp from sweat.
He hooked the sheath back to his belt and extended his hand to the defeated boy. Breathing heavily he accepted the gesture and was helped to his feet, gingerly touching his abdomen.
“You still have a long way to go. But you’ve fared better than most of the cadets here.”
“Thank you, Captain,” the boy bowed.
“You’re lucky to be training under General Khan. He’s a master and respected throughout the entire realm.”
The boy nodded and turned his head as he noticed a new figure in the training room. Though the air was thick with heat, the boy was frozen still. The general waited at the door, arms folded, his face unreadable. Captain Romulus saluted, but the boy remained stock still. General Khan unfolded his arms and swiftly walked into the room, causing the air to shift dramatically. Khan acknowledged Romulus.
“They move towards us, Captain,” he spoke coolly. “My spies returned with a name… a familiar name.”
The captain remained silent as the general looked at the boy. He ran a slender, cold hand down his cheek, causing the lad to shiver. Khan licked his thin lips, while ignoring his captain. The tension rose as the squire kept an uneasy silence, as if threatened by an unseen force.
After a moment of the tensed silence, Romulus spoke, breaking the trance of General Khan. “What is the name, sir?”
“The name? Oh, right. Prince Merrick.”
Captain Romulus, who remained at ease, suddenly showed interest in the subject. His eyebrows raised and his jaw dropped slightly. It took much restraint for the captain to not completely spill over in shock.
The general turned his gaze on him, “Does the name sound familiar, captain?”
“Y-Yes, sir. He is the hair of Hazar-Shual, a once proud and righteous kingdom.”
Khan gave a small chuckle, “Say captain, where did you say you’re from?”
He closed his eyes and breathed out, “Hazar-Shual.”
General Khan’s thin lips turned into a sinister smile, “You’ve been running from home all these years, right captain? Trying to forget what happened to your poor mother?”
Romulus turned away with haste. His jaw tightened and his hand clenched into a fist. Another small chuckle and Khan was now looking into Romulus’ eyes, just as he was with the unnamed boy. Romulus’ eyes were drained against Khan’s soulless black.
A cold finger traced down his cheek. “What’s the matter? You haven’t forgotten all about your poor, caring yet defenseless mother did you?”
“Did you forget the vow you made, as you held her corpse while the kingdom fell? The words you spewed of avenging her while her limp body turned cold?”
“And did you forget it was all Prince Merrick’s fault?”
Captain Romulus’ face flushed red, his eyes reading pure hate. Another chuckle escaped the general’s lips and he backed up slowly. “Prince Merrick is on his way to kill more innocent people. He’s a technologist, thinking experiments are a gift from the gods.” Khan spoke as he swayed, like a snake.
“I’ll stop him,” Captain Romulus hissed.
General Khan shook his head, “No Captain, not you. There is a recruit I have called for.”
“A recruit, sir?”
The general nodded, “He’s proven his worth in the past. This mission is his inauguration.”
“Who is the recruit?”
The general inhaled, “The one who presents you the Golden Sword of Hazar-Shual.”