Book 6: The Ebony Prince of Earlgos
Episode 1: To Parros
Around the same time…
South of Parros, about 500,000 tads away from the capital city of Torus where Amnelis was having a bitter conversation with her father, laid the plains country of Earlgos. Earlgos was not a big country, but according to old history books it possessed one of the bravest cavalry corps in all the Middle Country, never succumbing to an invasion from another kingdom. It was famous for it’s high production of horses, and boasted a rich and peaceful opulence. King Stakk, a hero of Earlgos, ruled beside his mighty Queen Emma, youngest sister of Parros’ Holy King Aldross. Given this powerful relationship, though still keeping eyes on the northern, eastern, and western boundaries, Earlgos was able to use Parros to defend its southern border, hiding it’s vast flatland of nomads from enemies that approached from that direction.
Within Earlgos’ capital city of Mahal, a man and woman were quietly facing each other inside a solarium close to the courtyard of the royal palace, where many circular, bowl-shaped roofs could be seen across the vast green grassland. The woman had a slender figure, long, silver hair with a thick braid that hung from her left shoulder all the way to her feet. Her braid was embroidered with exotic red, yellow, and blue threads. She wore a thick, cloth dress, and strange black pantalets. Attached to her jeweled earrings and necklace were silver bells that would make sharp jingling sounds whenever she moved. The man, mature for his age, with his dark hair, jet black eyes, and large build gave off a tough persona. However, unlike a Mongauli warrior, he also had a dazzling atmosphere about him. The man, Duke Beck, a brave knight of Parros, had come to visit the woman, Queen Emma, regarding the fate of her brother, the Holy King of Parros who had fell to the curse of Crystal. No other shadows, besides the two present, appeared in the solarium. However, Queen Emma and Duke Beck had not entirely dismissed that others may be present.
Duke Beck was the orphan son of the late Prince Arkham, younger brother of King Aldross, and due to his father’s death, he and the queen grew inseparable over the years. Like the twins of Parros, they shared a close bond – this aunt and her nephew.
Spread around the ceramic table where the two sat staring at one another were bizarre objects. One of the items was the bone of a large beast, or perhaps one might say an imitation of one. It could easily have been the twisted, ivory tusk belonging to an elephant. There were also many small, mysterious-looking rods with colorful, threaded patterns entangling each. Queen Emma, extending a thin finger from the sleeve cuff of her long, flexible dress, began rearranging the items, starting with the creature’s horn, as she twirled her tongue around in her mouth while trying to remember something important. Duke Beck had a color of nervousness in his face as he thought about the amount of troops lost in Parros – each breath he took a constant reminder that he was lucky to still be alive.
Finally, Queen Emma raised her head with a sigh. “Beck.” Her nephew’s face, which she had seen no less than a year before, had brightened since earlier. As he looked up, Beck let out a breath he had been holding in for a while.
“Hmm?” He asked, staring hard at his aunt.
“This is good news.” The queen nodded as she said this. “According to the runic rods, the two of them are still alive.”
“Princess Rinda and Prince Remus?” The duke’s voice trembled with fierce pride.
“Yes… well… I mean the fact that the rods’ pattern indicates ‘Danger, Hardship, and Crisis’ implies they are alive. No matter how many times I use the rods, ‘Death’ never appears. Beck… there is still hope for Parros!”
“That’s…!” Beck cut himself off, finishing instead by making the mark of Janos with his hand. “The two of them just being alive shows Parros is by no means a country that will succumb to Gohra. Even if it is trampled and broken, it always rises like a phoenix from the ashes. But… where are you two…?”
“Beck,” Queen Emma looked into her nephew’s eyes, wanting deeply to answer his inquisitive gaze. “Unlike Rinda, I am not a medium – a terrific predictor of fate – nor can I see invisible patterns. If I were Rinda, I would have been able to tell you which direction she was in now, and what to worry about next. However, I choose to believe they are alive, and they are in perfect health.”
“Ridiculous. How can we hope to reassure the people of Parros if we can’t be sure of how reliable the information is?” Duke Beck gazed at Emma, thinking hard about this.
With the exception of one, women of the Parros royal family had superior psychic abilities, and were hailed as prophets and fortune-tellers, despite the difference in the strength of their abilities. It was no exaggeration to say that the three thousand years of prosperity in Parros was due significantly to the awesome power of these women. Nevertheless, Queen Emma’s ability was far less legendary than Princess Rinda’s – she being the true descendant of Parros’ founder, Holy King Alcandross, of course. By the time Rinda had grown and honed her complete abilities, it seemed like Parros was encouraged by a sense of unprecedented richness and pride. No one had predicted the sudden spearheaded invasion – that most tragic of catastrophes. Neither Rinda, nor any of the fortune-tellers and mages of the Crystal Palace had seen signs of it.
“Perhaps the soothsayers did see this cloud of misfortune forming above Parros, but the eyes of the good citizens buried the diviners’ judgment as just a friendly warning, plunging themselves into a false sense of security. Then again, it could be the spirit of Jarn Fateweaver, if such a being exists.”
“To let Parros fall… forget the god of fate, Janos the protector surely cannot be forgiven, my queen. The people of Parros chose Janos; fought in the name of Janos; they revered him,” said Beck. “I think this was a trial that Janos had given us. If there is one positive aspect after going through this ordeal, even though there was never a time in all of Parros’ three thousand years that it did not know glory, peace and prosperity… it’s that this disaster, terrible as it was, could still not instill cowardice into the citizens. Perhaps what is most unfortunate – is that there must be a coordinate deviation malfunction within that… machine! If there weren’t, those two would have been playing together in Earlgos a long time ago. My only regret is that I was not near the city when the enemy invaded. If I had been, I could have taken those two to safety and recaptured the city of Crystal with a large army at my back!” The warrior insisted on blaming himself for the disaster, tortured, as he shed a sweltering tear.
“Beck, that’s…” the queen opened her mouth in an attempt to comfort him, but then, as if surprised by something, “Beck! Look at this!”
“Look… this runic rod! The pattern is showing ‘Protection, Luck, and Encounter’, an extremely rare pattern.”
“Ah! So what does it mean?”
“Those two…” The queen seemed strengthened as she looked for her words. “It seems they are being protected.”
“Being protected? By who?” the duke blurted, filled suddenly with a combination of intrigue and concern. “Who is this protector?”
“Oh, please don’t read too much into this, Beck. I cannot interpret the larger significance behind the signs. I can only see their general meaning.” The queen started to rub the rod viciously. However, as soon as the friction she had created became the first signs of a hot fire to her finger, she pulled her hand away. “This is a… strange pattern,” she said, bothered by something. “With the knowledge I have now, I cannot read it well. This is – how should I say this – something like a great fate… a difficult journey of miracles… next to a God… Rinda and Remus, no, even Parros itself is just one of the small details in this huge pattern… I’m not sure. I… I just don’t know. Perhaps… something superhuman, or more than human – a destiny…”
Duke Beck frowned. But, being a man of Parros, he knew the stresses of fortune telling and foresight. He kept his silence, so as not to disturb or exhaust her concentration. Queen Emma, however, had nothing more to say. She kept silent, wedged in her thoughts while staring at the divination rod. Unable to endure the silence any longer, Duke Beck interrupted.
“Well then…” He said, a bit fearful of opening his mouth. “I think its best I leave for Crystal…”
“What?” the queen looked up, startled. “Oh, uh… this is…”
“I can’t do anything here if I continue to stay hidden like this forever. I shall return to Parros alone and join with the remnants of Crystal, where I can try and locate Prince Remus and Princess Rinda, and secretly gather a military force against Mongaul.”
“As I have said over and over again, we must wait a little while longer. Please hold, Beck,” said the queen. “I never dreamt I’d hear of the deaths of my older brother and sister-in-law. We must take care of the danger facing my home country. My husband, the king of Earlgos, is keenly aware that the next thing to do is to launch a thorough counterattack to curb the violence of the Mongauli empire, as the destruction of Parros will surely spill over into this country. Of course, while you raise your military army to recapture the city of Crystal, my husband has pledged the forces of Earlgos to contribute as well. However, between you and me, I can say for certain that you are no machine, Beck. For now, I have hands in Earlgos searching for the twins of Parros as we speak. So, as I tell you this, do you not see that you may be using your vengeance too recklessly? Well, Beck? You would be useless to the twins if you were dead. Now I will say, though, that you do in fact have merit with regards to becoming the general of the counter-offensive. After all, you are known to the people of Parros as ‘The Valorous Duke Beck’.”
“I understand. Speaking with regards to succession of the throne, I am the fifth in line. Apart from the deceased queen, it would be Prince Remus, then Princess Rinda, then Duke Narisse – the younger brother – and so on. At least the people will not crown me until after confirming the deaths of the first four. I know my position, but I do not want the throne in the first place. Though I am loyal to the kingdom, I am a warrior, not a vessel for leading citizens and handling peace talks.”
“I hate to say this, but if Remus is lost to us, and you continue to wait for someone to fill the throne, then what happens when you become a leading figure in the rebuilding of Parros? The greater your merit, the harder it is to fill the throne with someone other than you.”
“I know that, too. That is why I keep pushing my rage down into my chest – soothing it – standing still and enduring it all, far from the city, here in Earlgos. I suppose the life signs of those two are looking good,” he reasoned, though it troubled him to utter the words so assuredly. Queen Emma, meanwhile, was quietly holding the runic rod, while at the same time keeping an eye on the elephant bone’s vibration. “However, please understand that when I think of my beautiful homeland for even a moment being entrusted to those barbarians of Gohra, it tortures me. My queen, you are indeed a woman of the royal family of Parros, being able to read the threads of fate at any time, never forgetting to consider all possibilities to carefully calculate your actions. Not a single woman in Parros could match your intelligence in military strategy. In fact, I’m not even thinking about such political positions afterwards. I just want to recommend soldiers to help me put the Crystal city back in Parrosian hands.”
“I understand. Believe me, I completely understand. You have no desire to compete with the young Remus for the throne, as long as you accomplish recapturing Parros. If anything, you are above all an honest man. But I am afraid that…” Queen Emma immediately stopped, as if interrupted.
There was no warning. At the same time they had heard the rough footsteps, the door of the solarium had been pushed open, allowing entrance to whatever was on the outside.
The queen turned with her waist to greet the man, “Oh dear, so rough. But, I see that no matter how many times I teach you proper etiquette, it falls on deaf ears. And to think you are in charge of the cavalry.”
“That’s right, my dear sister,” the man that had entered was now standing at the entrance, looking scrupulously around the interior of the room. Though he used the term, sister, it was more of an abbreviation for sister-in-law.
For only a moment, the newcomer appeared to be an impressive black whirlwind that had forced its entry and swarmed the area. His age was around twenty-five, or twenty-six. However, there was an air of naïveté in his youth – a strange divergence from his sturdy, tall-bodied appearance – that astonished those that saw him. In fact, in terms of criteria common to the delicateness and elegance of Parros’ nobility, he could not be said to match the position he held. He was neither boyishly handsome, nor flattering, but rugged and somewhat crude. His strong jaws, gleaming eyes, dauntingly long, black hair, and a scar running from his left forehead to the bottom of his cheek gave a frightening impression. To compliment his long hair, he wore a black turban, the end of which flowed like liquid down the back of his head. His attire included a black, braided leather jacket and cloak, thin riding pants that were tight around the crotch, and black sandals. It was mostly all black. However, just like Queen Emma’s dress, the man’s leather shirt had strange, gentle embroidery, handpicked and sewn by the hands of dexterous Earlgosian women, so that it oddly went well together with the turban, creating a refreshing sensation of grassland fondness. It was this that made him stand out amongst the cavalry. Encircling his thick, embroidered, ornamental sash that hung around his waist, a short, curved dagger of gold, and a handful of throwing knives were attached. His eyes were tense – merciless – like a black panther hiding amongst the grasses, wind and flame swirling at his back. Behind the smiling face was a hidden trove of frightful experiences. It had a kindness that showed pure, like the innocence of a child, attracting those around him, but it also possessed a hint of dominance – the sign of a conqueror. Then, spreading his hands over his face, still wearing his ferocious smile, he began approaching the two in front of him.
“It baffles me that one expects Parros nobility to have an elegant behavior. Sure, you’re gorgeous, sister, like a crystal doll, but if an Earlgosian woman like you is just a lame maiden like our older sister, not even able take a slap from the wind, this country’s as good as ruined.”
“You are right, Skaal. Then, I shall be a queen without a successor,” Queen Emma looked at her brother-in-law with a lonely-looking smile.
“My queen, that’s…”
“No, Beck. It is true. I am familiar with the attitudes of the people here in the grasslands. After all, I am not officially married. I was not married to King Stakk yesterday, and I have no plans to marry him today.”
“Yes, we may be crude, but we are unique. And I may not behave like a noble, but I love and understand my people with all my heart.” As he said this, Skaal, the Ebony Prince of Earlgos – a name that resounded bravery across the world – distorted his scarred face, forming what seemed to be a sincere smile. “But I’m not so bad. I’ve brought you both news that blows manners and etiquette right out of the water. A messenger travelled three days and nights just to bring this news here. I wanted to tell you myself.”
“What is it? Is it about Parros?”
“The location of Prince Remus?” Duke Beck had barely sat down when he and Emma’s voices interrupted one another.
Skaal approached the table, but then stopped at a cabinet shelf, picked up one of the sake bowls, and poured it into a silver cup he had attached to his sash. “A toast to Parros. No, I’m still unsure about Prince Remus, but this is good news. The Duke of Crystal has begun to move.”
“Narisse?” Again, the two shouted simultaneously.
“Oh yes, that dandy duke of Parros is there,” the Ebony Prince took a drink from his sake cup, “A spy keeping watch at one of the checkpoints leading to the Mongauli-occupied Parros saw him with other soldiers, and our fellow border guards sent signal fires one by one. A messenger got hold of the news that evening and came as fast as he could to Mahal to tell me. Although there were rumors that he had died from his injuries during the battle, it seems the Duke of Crystal had only a few scratches, and hid in the border city of Madra until he could gather a few soldiers and return to Crystal.”
“To Crystal? But… but that’s reckless!” Beck sprang from his chair. “Crystal is occupied by Mongauli soldiers! How can Narisse be so stupid as to march right into the enemy’s clutches?”
“The Duke of Crystal is there precisely because he is the ‘Duke of Crystal’,” Skaal said bluntly. “In other words, the capital, which could be considered his alter ego, was stolen by Mongaul’s forces. He could not afford to sit idly by, licking his wounds.”
“But prince! Aldo Narisse is the fourth heir to the throne… no, without the queen there is a duke, a prince and a princess, so he is the third heir…”
“I saw Duke Narisse once at my brother’s wedding,” said Skaal. “He had the face of a woman, but it felt like there was something else unusual about him. Because the duke acts in such a reckless way, there is a chance that the he will, in fact, win. For now, Duke Beck, do not worry about this.”
“No,” Beck began, standing up and facing the crown prince with determination. “I shall leave for Parros.”
“Beck!” yelled the queen.
“That’s right, I said I’m going.”
“You’re going? Actually, that may not be a bad idea,” said Skaal, almost expressionless.
“Your Majesty… as Duke Beck, I intend to fulfill my noble duty. But again, I am a warrior. Politics can come after the war has subsided, but for now, my obligation is to recapture Parros! Moreover, my queen, at least one of your worries is no more. Aldo Narisse is alive. I just… I cannot allow him to die. I’m sorry!” the duke bowed quickly, and then left the solarium hurriedly, as if trying to escape before his frustration became apparent.
Queen Emma, midway out of her seat, could only watch as he departed. “Oh Skaal. I was afraid this would happen,” she said, slinking back into her chair. “I was trying to talk Beck out of riding in too recklessly… If by any chance, neither Rinda nor Remus is alive, and I misinterpreted their fortune, something disastrous could happen… And what happens if Narisse and Beck become prisoners in the hands of the Mongauli army in Crystal…”
“Parros’ royal bloodline will never be wiped out,” Skaal said matter-of-factly.
“Oh, spare me your overconfidence!”
“So, you intended to keep the impatient Duke Beck here against his will. I understand that he’s the fifth heir to the throne – and the last… but regardless, Duke Beck is going, and blood will almost certainly be spilled on both sides, so we need to make sure at least he survives. You are a clever woman, elder sister.”
“But Skaal. Beck could be stopped. He could be imprisoned. Anything could happen. It was by the sacred blood of Janos that Beck was visiting Earlgos during the invasion of Parros. So, please, we must stop Beck!”
“Calm down,” Skaal laughed. His incredible smile made him look more like the chief of a tribe of nomadic people that trekked across the grasslands than the king of a country. “I shall ask the king for soldiers. When Beck needs us, Earlgos shall quickly lend their numbers to fight Mongaul.”
“Even so, I cannot wait here any longer,” said Queen Emma, frustrated at her brother-in-law’s fearless smile and nonchalant eyes. Then, she turned to the solarium door, opened it, and ran out. Skaal had been left behind.
“My, my!” he muttered to himself, pouring another cup of sake and taking a sip. “Women of civilized countries have far too much fun. A woman should be obedient – their only focus being on squeezing sheep’s milk. A man’s job is to fight. A man who does not fight is trash.” After finishing the last drip of sake from his silver cup, he placed it back into his sash, and exited the room. However, contrary to the other two who had just left, he decided to go through the two pillars of the solarium into the courtyard, which was blooming with white flowers.
“Ta Wong! Ta Wong!” He called out in a loud voice. Immediately, a boy of eastern descent, with narrow eyes, yellowish skin, a turban, and a short vest came running toward the call.
“I’m leaving. Prepare Han Yi’s saddle.”
“Yes, master. Will the ride be long?”
“No. It’s just to the border. I must speak with the chief of the nomads.”
“With the Guru tribe?” Ta Wong rushed with haste now.
Flipping the hem of his turban – the strong wind causing both mantle and long hair to flow – Skaal began walking through the low, white building to the back gate. A jet-black horse was already being dragged out, whinnying with excitement and flaring its nose after noticing its master. Without foot holders for support, Skaal jumped with little difficulty onto the mare’s back.
“Ta Wong, you are coming, too.”
“Yes, Master.” Skaal kicked the black stallion’s belly, not even looking back to make sure the boy was correctly straddling the horse.
Winds that blew strong cascaded into the middle of the beautiful, grassy landscape, creating a sea of green waves as far as the eye could see. Here, both the town and its people were a part of nature. The white, bowl-shaped city of Mahal seemed like a giant flower emerging from the green grassland. Through the prairie, black turban fluttering against the breeze, the Ebony Prince of Earlgos gradually brought his horse to a gallop. He truly was like the black wind itself, sweeping across the magnificent grassy expanse.