14th Week of the Harvest, in the Third year of the Setting Sun.
I was nervous, scanning the cobbled street in front of us. There was too much to look at and I could do nothing to slow my racing heart. Instinct had taught me to survey every face that I could; to make out those who could bring harm, knowing where danger might linger, and silence it swiftly.
I remembered the war and the moments that I felt before the first battle on the fields outside the capital. My father and uncle stood next to me, my armor loose and heavy. During the chaos I kept their final words with me, moments before the enemy crashed against us like a wave
“Trust your arms.” My uncle told me. “They already know how to kill.”
“Trust your heart.” My father told me. “It already knows how to keep you alive.”
When it was over I found them face down in the grass, glistening red in the sun. It seemed an arrow through my Uncle’s throat had stole his life, and my father lay upon him. His back cut like the stump of a tree, hacked by child wielding an ax for the first time.
An armored hand placed hard on my shoulder brought me back to the present. I took my eyes off the street to see the eyes of my commander looking at me through the dark slit of his helmet. It had been made to resemble the snarling head of a lion.
“Sir Harold, are you clear with procession? I will not tolerate any mistakes, especially today.”
“Yes, Commander.” I said the words as if it were an ordinary breath. My orders were clear and simple. Understood as easily as the orders I received when I was first knighted years ago. Each day I woke confident in the fact that nothing should change. My loyalty to the royal family was unwavering. The King and Queen were good to me. They allowed me to join the royal guard when the last of my family died defending their realm. Back then my only order was to survive, to grow strong to one day serve them.
A horn blasted from on top of the closest tower, signaling the approaching royal family. I turned as the great oak doors of the citadel opened. The King and Queen stepped out into the light, walking proudly. I remember the King’s beard was still golden when he first spoke to me as a squire. My tunic was covered in the grime of the stables and my hands sore from chopping wood to stoke the fires of the citadel.
“You there.” He beckoned me towards him, adjusting the straps on the saddle of his great warhorse to the great displeasure of his servant. I approached, my eyes locked on my muddy shoes. “Look at me lad.” I raised my eyes without hesitation, and gazed upon a man with golden hair, kept out of his face by a band of gold that crossed his forehead. His beard was even thicker, and he combed two fingers through it has he peered down at me. “I knew you family well. They served me proudly. I expect the same from you.
“Yes, my King.” I answered. They were the first words of bravery that I ever spoke.
I knelt as the King passed by, gazing once again at my feet, too cowardly to look any higher. He stopped then and I watched as the toes of his fine leather boots pointed in my direction.
“Arise knight, so that I may address you.” I got up without hesitation, and gazed upon a man with silver hair.
“Remove your helmet.” The sun shone brightly on us both as I followed his command. For a moment he let go of his solemn demeanor and smiled. “Sir Harold. You look like your father in that armor. It suits you well.”
“Thank you, my K-”
“King George!” The sudden appearance of my Commander stopped my words. “The procession cannot be delayed. It is time.” The king nodded, his face drained of expression once again
“Make us proud, Harry.” I looked as the words slipped from the King’s mouth. I responded, though the words could not be made audible past the metal of my helmet.
“Yes, my King.” I said, the words ringing from within my helmet, echoing within my skull with a new sense of bravery. The feeling settled deep in my heart and grew as the Queen looked upon me next. Her eyes seemed to be digging into me, searching for my character that lay hidden beneath the steel armor.
The day of my 19th birthday, she called me Harry for the first time. With handmaidens, servants, and the royal guard all following, the Queen had set out to meet with the many people of the realm and hear their grievances. Many were sick, even more were poor. Everyone was hungry. Whatever space was available in the carriages was filled with ingredients to make bread, and any game we hunted portioned to as many hands as we could manage. The people seemed ravenous, hands always outstretched to receive anything they could grasp. I was struck by a fear then that I had not known since the death of my father. A sensation that once more, the treasures of my life would be ripped away from me. I did not loosen the grip on my sword until the final day of our journey. Yet to the humors of tragic fate, we were ambushed that very day of the King’s Road.
Though not by simple thieves. Instead of carrying blunted knives and clubs, these men were armed with honed weapons of iron, clothed in studded leather, and howling death cries to us all. Leonard would be named my commander for his actions. Ask a bard to sing his song and he will tell you that the man was like a lion, his roar as fierce as his blade.
What I saw was a man in his element. In control of the frenzy that surrounded him. It made him powerful and as he hacked away limbs and men’s lives. It was then that I saw the toothy smile of a beast that was for a moment, no longer a man.
As the Lion clawed at his prey, I struggled to keep myself in front of the enemy, guarding the Queen at my back. Only one man flung himself towards us. I caught him on my shield and saw the terror on his face as he realized he had opened himself to my sword. I brought the man to his knees, blood spilling out onto the King’s Road. I looked desperately at the Queen, knowing no harm had come to her, but worried more that I had failed to keep her gown innocent of blood. I spoke words to her then that I no longer remember, the look of horror she expressed at the bloodshed before her is all that I can now see. I guided her away, doing my best to keep the violence left in the drying sun away from her view. We had not walked a hundred paces before the king and what seemed to be the capital’s entire guard rushed in on horse
“Clair! Did they harm you! Did they hurt you in anyway!” His voice thundered above the stomping hooves.
“Not a finger was laid upon me. Your knight saw to it that no danger approached.” The King took her from my arm and held her close to him. As they walked he placed his hand against her belly, swollen and with child. “We are both safe George.” She assured him.
The last I can remember of that day was being ordered to the royal bed chamber. Upon my arrival I watched as the King briskly walked away, followed by my commander at his heels. The King looked at me for a moment, and I saw a worried expression I assumed was due to the Queen’s close encounter with death. His voice was soft as he muttered, “She will be the end of me.
“There’s the Demon!” A voice screeched out from the crowd ahead. The outcry snatched away my attention from the Queen’s gaze as we both looked out into the crowd with snarls on our faces. The Commander ordered his men to keep the crowd away from the procession. The King looked back, and I saw tears on his cheeks. Such an expression would be difficult to discern, given the circumstances that surrounded the king. However it was my curse to bear that I knew the source of his sadness lay at the precipice of castle behind me. For the first time in what seemed an eternity I felt my feet carry me to her side, my tall shadow blocking sun that seemed snarl at her in its heat and brightness.
The princess spoke softly, her voice always uplifting like the sounds of a songbird, “Thank you Sir Harold, but the sun feels good today and I would like if it kept me company.
“Y-yes my lady.”
“You sound nervous Sir Harold. Is something the matter?” If only I could comprehend the turmoil I felt within me. Speak to her simply on the crushing weight I felt bearing down upon me. Instead I remained silent.
“Please do not hide in the darkness from me, Sir Harold. So much of the world has done so already.” She whispered as she started to walk forward into the sunlight, the crowd ahead barking in madness with her approach. Hearing her speak my name in such a simple request brought tears to my eyes. She stopped near top of the steps, gazing out in front of her, though I never knew what she looked upon. I stood at her side as we descended the steps from the citadel down onto the main road. Her hand rested firmly on my arm, touching only the hammered metal that was strapped against it. “They gave you new set of armor.”
“Yes my lady.”
“It feels so strong.” I was silent again, not knowing how to respond to such simple words. Another shout rang out in the morning light, and I watched as the princess tightened her grip around me. I moved without thinking, and took hold of her small white hand. It seemed a storm of hostility and angry cries was set loose upon us as we walked on.
“Do you remember the first time you took my hand, Sir Harold?” She said sweetly, my ears slowly drowning out the sounds of violence around me.
“I had clumsily fallen into a river sparring with your brother. I thought I might drown if not for you.”
The Princess laughed, “If I remember correctly, it was a merely a creek. I couldn’t stand hearing my brother and his knights laugh at you as you struggled to lift yourself out of the water.
“… I was foolish back then and had not strength to even keep my legs steady in that armor.
I felt the princess’s grip tightly around my gloved hand as she whispered, “You are still a fool, Harry.”
I did not have a moment to respond, as I felt a hard object hit my shoulder, the sound of it ringing out into the air. Looking to my side, I gazed at the stone that had been thrown from the crowd. A fire blazed in my heart suddenly, and I reached for my sword with my free hand.
“What has happened?” The princess said, and I heard for the first time in my life the sound of fear in her voice. So saddened was I to hear it that I thought of nothing more than to comfort her.
“It-it is nothing my lady. A piece of the sky has fallen and I was barely spared from what would surely have been death.” Her laugh filled the air once more
“You seem to always have an answer to the impossible, Sir Harold.”
We continued on the procession route. Stones flew by every few feet, each narrowly missing the princess, and guards driving the crowd as they tried to move closer. I had brought my shield up across my arm, my entire side now bruised by the thrown stones and pebbles.
“Is the entire sky falling upon us?” She asked.
“It is merely a storm, my lady.” I answered as softly as I could, “I shall shield you from the rain.”
Up ahead I could finally see our destination. Its sighting finally bringing my horrors to reality as I saw blacks bird circle above, excited and waiting. On the platform stood what was left of the princess’s family. Below them, the chaotic crowd pushed each other aside to try and get a better view.
“Is that my brother?” She asked me as we approached. I looked at the young man I had watch grow before my eyes. His golden hair was full as his father’s once was but his face was smooth like a babe. His eyes looked upon us with precision, the eyes of a man who would risk everything to obtain what he wanted.
“I have not seen your brother in quite some time, my lady.”
I helped the princess of the platform steps and guided her to stand next to her parents. I was supposed to make my way back down in front of the platform but as I turned to leave the voice of my commander stopped me.
“Stay where you are, Sir Harold.” He ordered. I nodded and remained next to the princess uncertainty and fear entering my heart and mind. John spoke then.
“My people! I have gathered you today to put an end your suffering!” The crowd roared in approval. “The man and woman who you see here once knew what it meant to rule over this realm. They raised me, and I thought I was theri son. But I was merely a servant instead! What I thought was love went putrid and sour, the day the demon was born! ”
“Enough of this, John!” I looked over to the queen, her eyes full of tears.
“Dear mother,” John looked at her pitifully, “ If only you would repent for the transgressions that you and father have made against the people then maybe I could allow you to remain by my side. Can’t you see you were powerless to change this outcome? It is for the best that she dies.
“Damn you to hell, you snake!” She spat. The crowd roared back, another slew of stones and debris raining upon them.
“See what she says! See the evil that possesses her! This is the devil’s work! A demon that has hidden in plain site and plagued our lands with famine and treachery.” John looked at his only sibling. “I too thought her innocent. Her fair complexion was that of dove in the new snow of winter.” Approaching, he took hold of her white hair, petting her affectionately. Then, with sudden madness, he pulled her away. The princess screamed. “Tell me what you see with those red eyes, demon! Tell us about the witchcraft you have used against the realm! Give back what you have stolen from me!”
“Please John!” The Queen wailed as the King fell to the floor in despair and defeat.
I was silent. I could feel nothing in that moment. All I could do was watch as a brother brought his blind sister to her knees and drew the sword that was at his side. I stood there silently gazing at the chaos before me. It reminded me of the chaos before the battle where my father and uncle had been killed. Their last words resonating within me as I watched John raise his sword high
“Trust your arms,” My uncle said, “They already know how to kill.”
“Trust your heart,” My father said, “It already knows how to keep you alive.”
15th week of the Harvest, 3rd Year of the Setting Sun
“Jack! Another round!”
“How can you afford all of this Ed? I didn’t think the harvest started for another fortnight.”
“Ha! Lady fortune has decided that it’s my turn to live in riches.”
“Quit your stalling and tell me your secret.
“Fine, fine… I just so happened to be in the capital last week.
“What? You were there? Tell me everything!”
“It’s just as they said. The young prince John went mad, killing and convincing the people he was the one to rule.
“I told you. I saw with my own two eyes when he tried to drown one of his knights in the creek not far from here.”
“Well he got into everyone’s heads that his poor sister was all to blame. That she was possessed by a demon and that’s why her hair was white and all.
“What a shame. Poor lass was sweet as a songbird, same as her mother.”
“Aye. So the brother holds a procession to kill her. And I stood there as the people tried to throw stones at her!”
“Did the prince kill her then?
“That’s the best part, he was about to when-”
“Excuse me gentlemen, by any chance can I rent a room for the night.”
“Oh, ah, yes. That’ll be 10 coins.”
“That’s some nice armor you got on mister… By any chance would you be a knight?”
“J-Just passing through.”
“Don’t bother my customers Ed. They all know you’re a terrible drunk. Just let me know if you need anything Sir.”
“You see the little fair thing he was with?”
“Ed! Keep your voice down or I’ll throw you out!”
“Ah, you’re no fun Jack. Anyways as I was saying, the prince was about to kill the poor princess when a knight with a helmet shaped like a lion came out of nowhere. He goes straight up to the prince and put his puts a sword right through him. He starts roaring like a madman and before I could see a thing, someone had taken the princess and ran off! Everyone went crazy then, half of the crowd went after the knight with the lion head.”
“Let me guess, while everyone was in a panic, you ransacked the citadel .”
“I simply relieved them of some unneeded embellishments.”
Together, Jack and Ed took deep swigs of their drinks, choking as they continued to laugh. At the far end of the room, the man in armor brought a chair for his companion to sit next to him by the roaring fire, shielding her side from the flames.
****Thank you for being patient with me in completing this project. I would also like to thank Wang Ling in providing the art piece that was the inspiration for this story.
Please visit his page which can be found here: http://wlop.deviantart.com/
Once more thank you everyone who decides to read this story and please feel free to comment.***