Small, black spots materialized just beyond the Red Road.
“The Red Road” – It was a path that stretched from the South Road to the capital city of Crystal. The morning sky of the Middle Country showed red like fire, and the little, shadowy blurs flickered in the flaming light. Lucas stared, watching intently.
Eventually, the dark spots grew larger – becoming a group of four, then five cavalrymen. The speed with which the soldiers grew in size signified that they were coming in pretty fast. The riders’ silver armor glistened dazzlingly in the bright, morning sun.
Lucas slowly entered the cabin. When he emerged again, he had with him a small crossbow. Carefully, he lifted it to his shoulder and aimed. However, it was not to show hostility, but a gesture warning outsiders not to mess with him.
It was nice to have a day off, Lucas thought to himself. Then again, if that lazy black snake and his men were coming back from their meal, they wouldn’t be coming from this side of the Red Road. They took off with their horses straight in the other direction.
With a single glance, Lucas knew how many men there were. However, bold as he was with his crossbow in hand, he still worried about what these men were after. If one was to enter the city of Crystal, one would need to enter with a caravan, maybe even disguise himself as a petty farmer. The forces of Mongaul supposedly said that the bloodshed was over, and it was not possible to hunt down the remnants of Parros. Besides, the remaining hundred or so of the remnants probably lost their patriotism for their city by now.
Still, he needed to be cautious, and watch closely. Three months had drifted by since the Mongauli troops advanced into the capital city of Parros and put in a king and queen of their own.
What’s going to happen? Lucas wondered. He waited for one of the riders in silver to approach, as he tried to decide what to do. While the soldiers continued on the roadway – it’s sediment a mixture of dark red hues; he noticed that their silver armor did in fact match the cuirasses of the knights of Parros. Lucas continued watching from a safe distance, standing by the device that opened and closed the highway checkpoint. When the cavalry approached the gate, the leader issued a sharp command, and the men behind him brought their horses to a halt, one by one descending from their mounts. It was a fluid, well-executed action.
Lucas noticed that the leader wore a silver headpiece. He could see silver ear covers, along with a silver faceplate; everything was silver. He wore a decorative band around his waist, with his sword attached at the left hip. The heels of his boots and the wrists of his gloves both were cut masterfully, resembling the half-circles at the top of a heart. The armor seemed exquisitely heavy for a Mongauli knight. The soldier pressed forward, approaching slowly, creating clanging sound with each step.
But Lucas could see a kind of elegance in the man’s stride. The majestic aura cut by the figure seemed to belong to one of royal birth.
Lucas felt hot in the chest. He didn’t know what it was about the knight’s figure that confused him so, but to have feelings for a knight commander of the army… that was simply unheard of. As the knight continued walking forward unashamed, weaving between the five or six other soldiers, (It was troubling that only this many troops were present) a chorus of whispers began filling the air. But when the leader raised their hand, the whispering ceased.
The leader approached without fear. He stood, looking down at Lucas. The figure was extremely tall and slender, and cold, despairing eyes could be made out between the cheeks and the rim of the headpiece. However, what could be seen behind the headpiece was that of someone still quite young.
“Is it just you here?” it said calmly, in a low voice. There was an air of someone accustomed to leading.
Lucas gave a hard answer. “Hello, sir knight. The others are out looking for food to eat.”
“Looking for food?” The leader gave a short forced laugh. “You hear that Lunan? Those guys are hunting for a meal. I don’t know if it’s because they felt Crystal is safe enough to leave it unguarded, but I think it’s quite fascinating, no?” The one named Lunan quietly removed his helm.
“It’s… one of the Holy Knights!” Lucas ran over to him. “I’m sorry, I did not realize you were one of the holy knights until I saw your face up close. Please, come through this gate whenever you wish. Just watch out for those vile black soldiers on their way back home. Oh, and some of them are still protecting the main gate.”
The leader smiled with his eyes, nodding in response to the warning. “I am glad someone here likes you, Lunan. The more the citizens like you, the better your mood.”
“But, Holy knight…” Lucas had a worried look on his face. “Even if you get to the main gate, what about your appearance?”
“Thanks for your concern, but please don’t worry about us,” said the leader, relaxed. “We are not unwise, we have passed through a number of checkpoints such as this and have been fine. We have been planning how to get in for a while now.” The leader held out his hand. It looked like there was a glass plate, the size of a palm, shimmering in his slim glove.
“Ahh!” Lucas cried in amazement, as he put down his crossbow. “And where are your papers? You have papers right?”
“Relax, we’ve got them. All we had to say was that we had orders from a messenger of the Frontier to the ruler of the Capital City, and the Mongauli soldier never even thought twice” the knight said with a laugh. “When it comes time to enter the gate, we will need to be using disguises. Hmm, I wonder what it’s like in Crystal now. It seems calmer, yes?”
“…” Lucas was close to tears. “Every day and night, the people of Parros are like dedicated slaves to the terrible Mongauli countrymen” Lucas began solemnly. “Mongauli soldiers will not pay for the food they eat or the water they drink. The beautiful Crystal Palace – pride of the people of Parros – is in ruins. Citizens are beaten daily, and evil men, not bound by chivalry, muddy the houses once owned by Parros nobles. Although the hearts of the citizens are resistant, they are also weak. They do not deserve to lose their royal palace, the foundation of their city. It’s like the body of a majestic animal, able to do nothing because it’s head has been removed. The thing I can’t stand most of all is that the Mongauls say they are merely in Parros, ‘for the sake of peace’ all the while committing violent atrocities. If I were a giant, I’d gather all the Mongauli scum into the square and literally kick them out of the city.
“The gods watched the royal family perish by these men. The people are haunted by the sight of their king and queen cut at the throats within the gates of the crystal tower. Every day, no matter how many times people are taken away for grieving the loss of their city, citizens continue to grieve, and more and more young people are speaking up. Who could have imagined that the beautiful Crystal, our pride, could be in such a sad state? When will this violence end? What can anyone do when the Mongauls use their weapons to get what they want?” While he bared his soul, Lucas had been unaware of the tears developing in his eyes.
The silver knight gently placed his hand on Lucas’ shoulder. It felt, to him, like he was no good at his post, having to be consoled by these soldiers trying to pass through. Then, Lucas noticed a mysterious light in the soldier’s black eyes.
“Will this madness have no end?” questioned the knight, his message meant for all to hear, “The gods will not forgive this. I guarantee you I personally will see to that. Even in a city as seemingly helpless as Parros – a fruit almost ripe for the picking – the Mongauli forces will not last long.”
“Oh?” Lucas looked up at the knight with renewed faith.
“Well, the sooner the better!” yelled Lunan.
The knight nodded, but after a quick thought to himself said, “I can’t leave without a full water supply. I’m sorry, it was hot today and I drank almost all of my water and now my jug is nearly empty.”
“That’s fine,” Lucas cheerfully exclaimed, “I’ll give you some of my wine. Don’t worry, just drink what you have left.”
“Thanks,” said the knight.
“No, thank you sir,” insisted Lucas. The knight shook the container to assure there was still liquid left. With a drip, drip the contents of the jug slowly emptied into his mouth.
Soon after, Lucas had led the leader into his hut near the road. “Sorry it’s a bit dirty in here,” Lucas apologized, as he picked up a small, wooden bowl. In the hut was a large pot with cool, refreshing water. Using the bowl, Lucas mixed some of the wine he had in his jug with the water, creating a beautiful, pinkish fluid. Lunan stood at the door of the cabin, his eyes darting back and forth between the inside of the hut, and the outside, keeping a lookout for anything suspicious. The other cavalrymen walked in, looking around the area.
Lucas was ecstatic. Finally, Mongauli soldiers would cease doing whatever they wanted to the remnants of the Parrosian army. Not only that, but it was truly amazing just being in the presence of this fearless party that was about to enter Parros’ capital city of Crystal with a vital mission.
It seems obvious what they are planning, Lucas contemplated to himself. However, even if he were to be captured and tortured later, he still would not be able to sell out these men, as he honestly did not know what they had planned. You must succeed, He thought, once again bringing to the surface a painful reminder that his father and brother both were in the hands of the Mongauls.
Lucas took the ladle and proceeded to fill the jug with the watered-down wine. But, as soon as he turned around, the ladle dropped. He saw it then – putting his hands over his mouth to keep from letting out an involuntary exclamation. As the ladle hit the floor, droplets of water scattered across the room.
Lunan, who was still standing at the door, jumped in surprise, along with the rest of the cavalrymen. The slender knight had pushed down the right side of his helm, putting the bowl to his lips and drinking the mixture. Lunan hastily reached for the sword at his waist.
The silver knight’s face could now be seen clearly. Lucas would not have been surprised if it belonged to that of an innocent maiden. It was a beautiful, noble face – a rarity among rarities. It had a high nasal bridge, thin lips, a pair of big, bright, but somehow sorrowful, almond-shaped eyes, and it seemed like the face of a poet rather than that of a warrior. It was a face that instilled a confidence to the spectator that, surely, any body-shape or frame it belonged to would look better suited in formal clothing than in armor. As a man’s face, it was as brilliant as any face could be. Why, one could easily have mistaken it for a woman’s. : Yet from this beautiful face lay a thousand words. It was like a gentle innocence mixed ironically with cool-headedness, razor-sharp wit and vast experience.
Needless to say, Lucas knew this face well. He knew who it was, and that was enough for him to understand everything. As a citizen of Parros, and of the Middle Country, was there anyone that did not know the face of Aldo Narisse, the crown prince and fourth successor to the throne?
“The Duke of Crystal!” Lucas exclaimed in a hoarse voice as he took a knee. “But why… why such a place…?”
“Enough!” shouted Lunan, his temper and skepticism getting the better of him. Quickly, he placed his hand by his sword, as if ready to pull it from the sheath and cut down the kneeling young man, but the duke calmly stepped in. Lunan looked at him, defiantly. “Do you really want to show recklessness… this close to Crystal? Don’t be unreasonable. You know they have put a price on the heads of the three nobles – Princess Rinda, Prince Remus, and yourself – after learning that they had escaped the disaster, don’t you? To the Mongauls, the restoration of Parros cannot happen with all three of you dead. While the other two have probably perished by now, you are still alive. That means you are our only hope!”
“Young highway guard, listen,” Aldo Narisse began as he stepped forward. He reached out and grabbed the newly filled jug from the stunned Lucas, capping it, and attaching it to his belt. Looking into Lucas’ eyes, he smiled – a smile worthy of someone of notoriety. “Do not worry, I am the Duke of Crystal, and I will save my city with the help of these men standing here.”
“Is it true that… no, don’t tell me. In the unlikely event that I am captured and tortured, I could die shouting the truth – that I didn’t know!” Lucas exclaimed. “I thank you for just being in my presence, that is enough for me. Janos watch over you, Your Grace!” Lucas drew the mark of Janos with his hands and bowed his head.
“Sir Narisse,” Lunan said from the doorway.
“I see. We must go now.” Aldo Narisse clicked the cheek plate back in place, nodded to Lucas and went out the door.
By the time Lucas was outside, they were already on their horses. “Ah…” Lucas began, but swallowed his words instead. It was almost time for the Mongauli soldiers to get back. “Please take good care of yourself.” He wanted to say a mountain of things to the duke, but for now he had to wait. “Be sure to stay alive…”
“It will all be okay,” Aldo Narisse laughed. Then, after a brief moment of thought, the knight asked, “What is your name?”
“Lucas, thank you for the good water, I will not forget your kindness.”
“…” Again, Lucas consumed his words.
“Hiya!” Narisse cried, beckoning his horse forward. “Lunan! We shall reach the gate before nightfall”.
“Hiya!” The horses took off from where Lucas stood; a silver whirlwind heading straight for the capital of Crystal.
Lucas stood shocked, a sudden jolt of surprise hitting him as he watched the spectacle. He was alive. He was alive on the day the city of Crystal was destroyed. That’s right, I had heard he was missing
Who was that man – the one they call a beautiful noble warrior – who can fight on equal footing with two swordsmen?
Could he finally be the one to save Crystal? Lucas’ thoughts were disturbed by thousands of others. He could not remember how long he stood by the hut, plagued by so many questions. Suddenly, Lucas heard the sound of metal clanging, similar to the sound he had heard not too much earlier.
Clang. Clang. Clang.
It was like a group of mechanical dolls. He quickly came back to reality, and – with a particular nonchalance that most likely did not produce the desired innocent appearance he had wanted to convey – walked around to the other side of the hut.
“What were you doing?” a man yelled toward Lucas in a strong Mongauli accent.
Lucas kept his head down, only looking up with his eyes. The Mongauli soldiers were like large, black monsters with their dark tassels and cloaks, atop armored, equine beasts. “How was your meal?” Lucas asked without hesitation, his tone submissive.
“Oh?” The commander in black responded with a chuckle. “The farmer’s daughter was cute, and on top of that, the food was quite good, although there wasn’t much of it. As long as those three farms stay up and running, my belly will always be full,” He let out a laugh that made Lucas uncomfortable.
These Mongauli soldiers just decided what food was theirs. They would go to a nearby farmhouse, break down the doors to get food, get drunk on wine, and have their selfish fun with the women and daughters. Just thinking about it made Lucas enraged. However, he kept his composure.
I shall continue to do your bidding for now, demon in black, Lucas thought to himself, because I know that the Duke of Crystal is alive, and he will come for you soon…’
Lucas stared out, looking far across the Red Road that led to the city of Crystal. He followed the path with his eyes until it disappeared into the terrain. Under the fresh morning sky, it’s majestic red tint made it seem like an unfurled ribbon. Lucas smiled to himself as the Mongauli soldier – not knowing what the child was thinking – let loose a loud temper that rose unheard into the peaceful sky.
It was the year of the dragon, and the end of the white moon.