“Where to, ma’am?”
“To the Grand Library,” I said, handing the man twelve copper coins for what is to be a trip through the Dahramn streets. A carriage stood behind him and this was to be his taxi services. I set one foot in the carriage and a left hand to pull myself inside. I sat down and signaled him to begin.
From the opposite side of the carriage, the door opened an in came two ruffians with military uniforms.
“Lietenant!” both yelled at the same time. I then tried opening the carriage doors to the left of me, but saw that we were already moving.
“We heard you had returned,” said Gale. She sat in front of me and her brother, Ovid, sat next to her. He took a glance at where my right arm should have been, where it is now gone. “What happened?” She moved closer to inspect but I pushed her back on her seat.
“I’m fine,” I said. Gale tilted her brows to her nose. If she were any more angry, I would see steam coming out of her ears.
“You’re missing an arm!” she yelled.
“Lieutenant,” Ovid, on the other hand kept his calm.
“Are you really okay?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “This is an old injury and it has already healed.”
“This is why I kept pushing for us to come with you,” said Gale. “It shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”
“Where are the others?” I asked, placing my left arm on the carriage window and looking outside on the streets.
“They are in the barracks,” said Ovid. “We are awaiting further orders. Shall I call them?”
“No,” I said, and kept looking outside the window. People passed by us in what is a large street from one side to the other. Carefully placed blocks of stone were covering the streets for easier travel. Buildings and houses were either feet away from the other or were completely glued together. All made of hard and dark wood, some painted in dark hues of green to satisfy the king’s tastes. And his castle, big as it is with high walls and bigger flags that hang down, lion’s on each one carefully sown in gold thread and a destination straight from where we were, also visible from many corners of the city walls.
“Where are we headed?” asked Gale. I looked back to her, brow still slightly pointing downward and still mad. Light brown eyes that didn’t move away from where my right arm should have been.
“I,” putting emphasis on myself, “am going to the library. You two will go back to the barracks and I’ll meet with the rest of the group there.”
“I’m sorry,” said Gale. “We don’t take orders while off-duty.”
“It’s true,” said Ovid, smiling. “That’s only until you return to the barracks.”
I rest my head on the window and pound it slightly. Bump, bump, bump.
“Fine,” I said.
“Well,” said Gale. “Are you going to tell us the story behind the injury.”
“No,” I replied immediately. Then Ovid continued with a follow-up.
“You have two messages,” said Ovid.
“Speak,” I ordered.
“One from your grandfather, asking for you to visit him in Arvien, the holy fort city up north,” said Ovid. “And one message from the king, wishing for you to have an audience with him in the afternoon.. so a few hours from now.”
“…Is it urgent?” I asked, closing my eyes for a moment’s rest.
“I’m not sure, the king’s adviser didn’t say anything further than that,” said Ovid.
“I’ve already written my report and sent it in..” I said. “There isn’t anything else they would need from me.”
“I believe a second group was sent a while ago,” said Ovid.
“What?” I asked, opening my eyes, giving him my complete attention.
“A second group was sent to ascertain Aria’s position,” he said.
“A few weeks ago,” he said. “They should have arrived in Aria a while ago.”
“Ma’am,” said the carriage driver.
“WHAT?!” I yelled, and both Gale and Ovid flinched.
“Ah-uhh, we’re here at your destination,” he said.
I opened the door to the carriage. A cling sound was made from my sword hitting the steel edges of the carriage on my way out. This was followed by both Gale and Ovid’s footsteps. Then the carriage leaves a moment later.
“Lieutenant,” said Ovid.
I walked to the library entrance. Great pillars stacked in rows lead inside the library and also support most of the weight of the building’s ceiling. People walking to and from the grand library, carrying books that they want to borrow, some even taking their children to visit for their first time.
“Lieutenant,” said Ovid, again. I continued walking to the entrance doors.
“Lieutenant,” said Gale.
I stopped on my tracks and turned around to look at them. They stopped, too.
“Lieutenant..” she repeated. For some reason, tears were falling down her eyes and her mood hadn’t changed from a while ago. She’s still angry. “I’ve been worried since you left and you come back missing an arm, and yet you don’t want to tell me what happened?!”
“…” Other people around were taking notice. I looked to Ovid and Gale, and doing so without breaking sight. “You are soldiers, and if I have to see that reaction in the battlefield… I will have you dismissed.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Ovid.
‘We’re off-duty,” he said..
“GO HOME,” I said, emphasizing every syllable.
“Yes, ma’am,” Ovid pulled his sister away forcibly. She’s dragged with her feet sliding on the hard brick floors, and her eyes don’t look away from mines. Then I continued back to the to library and entered. I sighed.
I walked past the large wood doors of the library and got a view of what was inside. For a place that I’ve visited only so many times, it never disappointed me. Rows and rows of bookshelves, endlessly continuing until they converge into one seemingly long row. I then look for a specific section. In alphabetical order, and passing by rows until I reach the section with everything beginning on with “t” then for the complete word, “Talica.”
The current year is 745, and I search for Talica’s history spanning from its roots. No real date but estimates on when it began. I picked a few books on its history, one on its king and a few others on culture and the royal family.
“I’ll need something to carry these,” I whispered.
“Do you need some help with that?” asked a voice. I look to my left and saw a young man pushing around a cart of books. A librarian? He then walked up to me and took my books to his cart.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Not a problem,” he said, then looks to the books in question. “Interested in knowing about Talica?”
“A bit, yeah,” I said.
“There are other books if you have the rank to access them,” he said, looking at my military emblem. “Would you like to see them?”
“Sure,” I said.
We continued to a secluded area where I would have more space to read and less eyes looking at the texts I had picked. We found one just around the corner and a few minutes walk in one direction. The librarian then set the books on a table and I sat on the chair.
“Full name and rank?” he asked
“Koinsol Vatastragi,” I said. “Rank is First Lieutenant of the Dahramn Army.”
“That should satisfy the requirements,” he said. “Is there anything specific you were looking for?”
“Anything to do with Talica,” I answered.
“Then I will return when I find them,” he said, and quickly left.
I then opened the first book closest to me, one about the first king of Talica. It’s first King, Olivar, has a history skewed in mystery. I read the book’s contents. Nothing links King Olivar back to any real region of the world, nor would the distinct red coloring they have.. well it was a long time ago. Then sometime later and he met an elv, as the stories go. This book doesn’t offer anything new and I put it aside. The next text is on Talician culture. A good portion of all Talicians have some ties to nobility, mostly from having leached from Talica’s speedy growth. Though the first families to do so built upon their first king views and helped build Talica’s monarchy. Other citizens are mixed blood and would often feature lighter colors of the distinct red while some are even exempt from having the eye color at all. Regardless, these citizens share special benefits for living in Talica. This means free education, free healthcare and free housing. The only thing they have to consent to, as the text reads, is serving in the Talician army. This does not completely ignore the part where all nobility must, without fail, enlist in the army or lose their status within the country. Military involvement is expected from everyone, the Queen herself included. Then I look to loss of life during the last war..
Country – Total Population – Military Deaths – Percent of Population
Talica – 5,450,000 – 7,390 – 0.135
Dahramn – 14,800,000 – 97,000 – 0.655
Sharia – 8,030,000 – 22,000 – 0.273
“…” That was over a decade ago. I was there when I was fourteen, just looking on from far in a safe location. I remember endless rows of soldiers stacked facing Talica’s capital in the horizon. Then I saw what small force Talica’s army had brought and I thought that there was no possible way we would lose. I didn’t once think we would lost a king and many of his followers.
I continued reading, losing myself in the letters and words that entered my eyes..
* * *
“Stay where you are,” said my grandfather. Covered in medals and a colonel of the army. I had snuck in to follow my mother and father.
Then while the day was growing dark, tensions were high and we were expected to make camp near Talica’s walls—then a bird on fire had dropped down from the skies. Wings spanning a hundred feet in both directions and Talician soldiers were coming out from the forests. The bird then landed by them.
“That must be their new Queen,” said my grandfather. “The phoenix likely belongs to her now deceased mother, the former Queen of Talica, Queen Mori.”
“Granpa,” I said. “What is she doing?”
The Queen walked off from her phoenix, fully covered in Talician white steel from head to toe and carrying a lance. And before her was our army, a monster in size compared to what little Talica had. She continued walking, making sure that there was a hundred yards of space between her and her soldiers and then stopped to sit on her knees in the middle of the open space. Then our king made his way to her and they stayed there for what felt like an hour. Both talked and talked and a little light was created between the two monarchs.
I was falling asleep by this point, but I felt a shake on my shoulders as my grandfather was trying to wake me up. It was now dark out. Soldiers on our end were lighting torchers to light the way, and on Talica’s side, more soldiers were still coming from the forest. Our side had 200,000. Talica had 40,000. This was an obvious win of numbers. Then our King walked away from the Queen and that’s when it all started.
A ring of around the Queen, extending in all directions for what seemed like she was surrounding herself in a radius that stretched a hundred yards. I could easily see the grass burning and turning to ash and it was beautiful. She shined brightly in the darkness. Then little black streaks like rain were falling on her, black rain that were actual arrows falling on her, but soon turned to ash as they entered her space. Some, however, stretched farther behind her, to the Talician soldiers now taking the hit. Some put up blockades of earth. Some even began to s hoot back balls of fire. The Queen took notice and sped to the Dahramn soldiers in front of her, burning them and–
* * *
I flinched and opened my eyes. Books were stacked in large numbers in front of me.
“Sorry,” said a voice, it was the librarian. “Didn’t know you were sleeping.” He then placed more books in front of me. “These are the books you requested.”
“How long have I been napping?” I asked.
“A few hours,” said the librarian. “I brought some books while you were awake, though it looked like it, you were resting with your head up and arm supporting you… so I thought you were reading and I didn’t want to interrupt.”
“Can you have these books to sent my house?”
“I can, but the confidential texts will be placed in a lock box,” he said. “I’ll give you the key to the box and you can see the texts sometime later today.”
“Thank you,” I said. “You’ve been a great help.”
“And… the other two?” asked the librarian. I paused not knowing what he was talking about. Then he looked to the opposite side of me and behind the large stack of books. Gale and Ovid were also sleeping face down on the table. I sighed.
“When they wake up,” I said. “Mind telling them I’ve gone to see the king?”
“Of course,” said the librarian.
I then left a note by Gale. “Sorry for earlier,” it read. I walked out the library and made my way to the King’s castle not too far away. The closer I was to it, the more common were the royal guards walking up and down the streets. It took a few moments to reach the castle, since it was close to the grand library. Gates were higher than the ones found in Aria and that I have personally never seen closed before. There was a group of people gathering at the entrance, all of which were wearing military uniforms and on closer inspection they were all officers. What’s going on?
* * *
Three men, all on their knees and all on a carpet now red from the blood of those judged, a color also becoming ever more reminiscent of a nation adored by flames. All three in the presence of our king, men also to be judged for their crimes as such a fate soon coming to the Talician monarch.
“Their crimes?” asked our king, our majesty and rule of all Dahramn, King Shol. He sits gracefully, elevated above all others on his throne and ready for yet another day of meetings.
“Your majesty,” I said, standing to his side as his aid. “The first has robbed a poor, old man of his life.”
“And your plea?” asked our king to the first man.
“G-guilty, your majesty.”
Our king flicked the wrist of his hand, signaling for the guards readied with axes to come forth. One guard now stood beside the first man and swung his axe at his head.
“The second, your grace,” I said. “He has cheated the people you govern, poisoned their crop and stolen their hard-earned gold.”
“And your plea?” asked our king tot he second man. Blood started spreading inches away from the second man.
“I plead… guilty, your majesty,” said the second man. His head soon fell severed on the floor and between his legs. The third man flinched and tried moving away ever so slightly by the bones of his knees.
“The third man has betrayed your sovereignty by selling information to our enemies,” I said.
“Please!” he yelled. “Your majesty, I was only trying to help our kingdom!”
“…Explain,” demanded our king.
“Yes, of course, your majesty–your grace,” said the first man, now hands to his face and covering his mouth. “I-I-I meant only to give them wrong information, so that they look in the wrong direction.”
“And yet you are here before me?” asked our king.
“I may have stumbled and let some truths escape me,” he said, “but your majesty! You must believe that I had Dahramn’s well-being before my own.”
“Then tell me,” demanded the first king, “are you skilled in the art of deception?”
“Your majesty?” His eyes confused, his tone becoming higher in pitch.
“Are you, or are you not?” asked our king.
“No,” he said.
“Then why have you taken up the job you have no place in taking?” asked our king.
“You put our kingdom in further danger by releasing information that should have never escaped your tongue. And you only now realize that you had no skill in deceiving our enemies? You had no right to take the job of someone who would have otherwise been ever more successful.”
“I find you guilty,” said our king, and as the last syllable of his words were finished, so too was the third man’s head now on the floor.
“Send in our next guests,” ordered our king.
Two large doors open letting in men and women all covered in the familiar colors and uniforms that represent our military. A pleasing sight.
“Ah,” said our king, and there was a slight bend on his lips, “Please, come in.”
A countless many began lining up in rows that were seemingly done in a practiced matter–something expected of Dahramn’s officers. These were a fraction of the ones in the whole of the military. Once every single soldier entered, up to the last one that was a young woman, green eyed and missing one arm, our king then began his speech.
“I have gathered you all here today,” said our king, “because I am expecting new responsibilities to be given to you. All soldiers of Dahramn, who have shown promise and diligence throughout your many years of service or exemplary show chivalry in our darkest times–I applaud you.” Our king claps his hands, and I follow along with the royal guards surrounding the room.
All began to kneel before our king.
“This may sound surprising or out of place,” said our king, “but I suspect you all know that war is at our front door, knocking for us to answer it. For that, I must push for promotions and gather my more experienced officers for an opportunity that has shown itself.”
Our king stood up to stand tall before all.
“Talica,” he said, “to be precise, their Queen has shown signs of being weakened. Sources say that a prince has been born to their royal lineage… and I take this for an omen of their downfall.”
After the audience was over, everyone started leaving, all for except one person. That girl with the missing arm, she kneeled and I pointed out her presence to our king.
“Is there something you wished to say…?” he asked, waiting for her to introduce herself.
“Your majesty,” she said, “I am Koinsol Vatastragi.”
“Ah… a Vatastragi,” said our king. “I’ve seen your name pop up in the list of officers attending. Your grandfather, as I remember, had his commanding force stay during the last war so that he could look after his mischievous granddaughter. I don’t suppose that was you?”
“Yes, your majesty,” she said.
“Hmm… well,” said the king, “I know of your military expeditions when you joined the army and saw that you climbed through the ranks rather quickly. I’m happy to see such perseverance… Then you have my full attention.”
“Thank you,” she said. “It’s about what you mentioned–about the Queen being weakened.”
“Yes,” said our king.
“…I believe I met with her son,” she said, “the prince of Talica.”
Then the king’s eyes widened slightly, and signaled with his hands for the remaining guards to leave. A few moments later, and every guard had left to wait outside the throne’s doors.
“When was this?” asked our king.
“It was during a mission while I was in Aria,” she said.
“How can you be so sure it was him?”
“A blood contract was placed on him,” she said. “His full name was revealed and I am certain he was prince of Talica.”
“And you did not think to bring him to me?”
“In the condition I was in,” she said and our king glanced carefully at her missing arm, “I don’t think I would have gone far.”
“Since I know what he looks like,” she said, “I was hoping to be the one to take him somewhere safe where their Queen would find it hard to otherwise kill her son.”
“Well,” said our king. “It is true that we need the child alive, and seeing as how you claim to know what he looks like, I suppose I can do you this favor. A special mission of sorts. But how am I to believe what you say is true?”
“I don’t believe you would call us here without having some sort of faith in our loyalty or our abilities,” she said, still kneeling and our king smiled at her response.
“One question before I send you official orders,” said our king, “and before you leave.”
“Your majesty?” she asked.
“Have you grown attached to the boy,” said our king, “a Talician, and a royal no less?”
The girl paused for a moment and stood up.
“Is that a problem?” she asked.
“No,” said our king. “while my father may have died during the last war with Talica, I know many of the soldiers lost during the war. In fact, it is one of the factors that led me to decide who to trust. I know such a trait would make it harder for someone like you to waver during combat if you knew your enemy was responsible for killing your parents.”
“They died as soldiers,” she said. “And it was to a Queen trying to protect her kingdom.. her people.. and her family.”
* * *
A few hours had passed and I was standing in front of the doors to the barracks. I went inside, and in it were soldiers that I command, all of who I haven’t seen for a good many weeks. I closed the door behind me and it was followed by a mild sound of the door closing shut. Soldiers who had taken notice were now standing and saluting me. Gale and Ovid were at the front and doing the same.
“Lieutenant,” said Ovid. “How was your meeting with the King?”
“Gather everyone to the meeting room,” I said.
“Everyone?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Everyone.”
A short while later and I had every single one of the soldiers I was responsible for gathered in the large meeting room. Seats for almost everyone, some who also had to stand because of the lack of space but all added up to sum of eighty-seven soldiers, all tightly squeezed in one room. They all waited for on me to begin.
“As you all know,” I said, “tensions between Dahramn and Talica have not once in our history ever been friendly or calm. For that reason, and I ask you not to speak until I am finished, but as you are aware, of the two wars we have been in with Talica.. we have lost both.”
“…” everyone remained quiet and listened carefully.
“For that reason…” I said, “it should have been expected that we’d enter another one with them. In answer to that, our king has gone through a promotion spree to all of his officers in the army.” I looked to both Gale and Ovid, who sat to my left and right. “This is why, today, I’ve been promoted to Captain.” Everyone began applauding. Clap, clap, and were sounding off a bit too loud and went for a second longer than it should. “We will be changing barracks, and you can expect an increasing of personnel by double what you see here in the coming weeks. So, I ask that you all get accustomed to it.”
“Lieutenant,” said someone from the deep end of the table, then he corrected himself. “Captain, does this mean that some of us will see promotions as well?”
“Yes,” I said, “following our system of military promotions, I have the right to decide who is promoted, though you may always question my decision, and I will be there to hear your concerns, I have already decided who would take my old rank. That person will be Ovid. Any objections?”
“Ovid usually looks after everyone on his own volition,” said one my soldiers.
“He is second lieutenant,” said someone esle, “so I can’t see why he can’t get a step higher.”
“Enough of that,” I said. “We have been given a special mission. I want everyone to ready themselves for where we are going.”
“And where is that?” asked Gale.
“We are going to find a prince.”
Author’s Note: The next chapter is the epilogue, the last piece before the completion of the first volume.
07/18/16 – Minor Updates and name changes from Sada to Gale, and Din to Ovid.