Episode 1: To Parros
Once again, in Parros…
“Halt!” came a sharp, crude, booming voice – Mongauli in accent – belonging to a black-armored guard with his faceplate still down. At the same time, the tips of spears crossed in front of the approaching party, forcing them to stop in their tracks, creating a plethora of scattered sparks.
“Who are you? Where are you heading? Show me your bills of passage.”
“Of course.” A man at the front of the party approached with papers permitting entry to the city.
“Hmm…” The Mongauli soldier guarding the large gates into Crystal glanced over the documents, making sure the number written down was the same as the number requesting access. However, he was not quite satisfied yet. “Names?” he inquired, staring at the papers.
“I am Galius, a merchant of Salaem. This is my son, Gan.”
“What is your destination?”
“We have a shop in Crystal – mostly fragrances, mind you. It’s been four months since the War of the Black Dragon settled – thanks to the power of the Gohran knights – and the heavy security around the city has subsided. I was thinking it might be a good idea to reopen the store.”
“Hmm.” The black, Gohran cavalrymen began whispering to one another. However, the papers were perfect in finality, with no omissions. By looking at the individual who went by Galius, he seemed not a man experienced in the ways of the sword, but a warm, elderly gentleman – his relaxing toga encapsulating that of a civilian in stature, with just enough gold in his travelling cloak to get by. In fact, not one in the current company seemed to bear a blade.
Noticing that the gatekeeper seemed dissatisfied with the explanation he had been given, Galius casually walked up to the right guard and entrusted him with a small, leather bag.
“Here’s a discount for all the hard work you’ve been doing. How about it? I hope everyone here will use one of our products.”
“Ah. Yes. Mhmm.” The guard knew there was gold in the bag due to how heavy it felt in his hands, and suddenly, the other soldiers’ moods improved as well. “Alright. But, before you go, Galius, where did you say your shop was?”
“Ah, yes. It is quite a large and venerable shop on Saria Street. Why, just mentioning Galius’ shop…”
“I see. Perfume you say? I may just come by and buy some. Well, I guess you can go ahead and go through. Why don’t you leave your name and address with me? You are lucky. Commander Tylan finally declared that the shops are open for business again, for the purpose of restoring Crystal.”
“It’s been frustrating.” Galius groaned, carefully bending over. The group of merchants – around twenty in number, with horse-drawn carriages brimming with luggage – gathered in the center of the road to form a line and began passing through the large gate.
“Wait.” The guard stopped. “Sorry, it’s a rule we have…” One of the soldiers shoved his spear into one of the packages within the carriage.
“Ah!” Galius yelped.
The guard glared at Galius, as he pulled out a spear with a half-moon tip. Dark, red liquid began to flow out from the incision that had been cut into the straw case. “What is this?” the guard said, wiping the substance with his fingers and bringing it to his nose. Almost immediately, he shrieked from disgust and rubbed his hands on the stone-filled wall beside him. “What in Doal’s beard is this? It smells like rotten pears!”
“Salvio extract. Very rare indeed, it’s a popular fragrance among world-famous women.”
“So, you put that in a little glass bottle, price it at a hundred raan… what kind of ridiculous Parrosian specialty is that? And a smell that foul… this terrible stench is from… Salvio?”
“Well, if you dilute the solution a hundred-fold, then combine it with a secret ingredient, it becomes an attractive fragrance. You know, jewelry is much the same way, in that the source must be cut down into a finer product.” Galius explained patiently. Meanwhile, one of the young merchants fixed the badly slashed straw sack.
“Truly? It seems like something you forgot to throw away – and you say it sells for a hundred raan or more? Go… go on through. I feel like quite the fool for making such a mistake.” The black-armored soldier waved his arms as if motioning the carriage to pass. Galius bowed with his arms folded, then signaled for his party to continue, and the twenty men and four carriages began to move again. At the very end of the line was not a wagon carriage, but a genuine passenger carriage pulled by a black horse and driven by the last of the merchants.
“Stop that carriage!” Another guard’s booming voice rang out. Every member of the entering party, even Galius, stopped, frozen – all clenched with panic. Already, the guards had placed a stile to keep the black steed that had been pulling the cart from continuing forward, and were about to look inside.
“Wait, hold on…” Galius lunged forward. Meanwhile, a guard was already opening the door of the horse-drawn carriage – spear in hand.
“Eek!” A high-pitched squeal radiated through the air as a woman from inside the stagecoach rose up. In the corner of the carriage sat another figure, wearing a long, Parrosian travel cloak with a hood enveloping a lady’s face in shadow – an expression of fear slightly evident.
“Get out!” roared one of the guards in a harsh Mongauli accent.
Galius was still lunging, “Please wait. These are my two mistresses I have brought from Salaem. There are papers for them as well, but you have already checked over my shipments, so I really don’t think you need to do anymore…”
“Hey, they’re pretty cute, no?” As the guard said this, he reached his hand out as if signaling for the two fearful women to pull their coverings down in order to reveal their full faces. One of the soldiers made a wolf whistle, as the women removed their hoods. One particular woman was young, and beautiful, with flowing black hair and gorgeous black eyes. Her skin was smooth, almost wax-like, but in a positive way. The other woman had a more relaxed appearance. Though she looked as if she were beautiful in the past, her facial features were more matured. Strands of hair had already begun to gray, and she wore a band to tie up her bun. At first glance, she seemed to be Galius’ long time mistress. The woman behind her was still trembling, staring at the vulgar Mongauli soldier who had a look of certainty in his expression.
“According to one of our messengers, Aldo Narisse – the Duke of Crystal and younger cousin of Parros’ Holy King who once ruled over the capital – had been injured in the War of the Black Dragon, retreated from Crystal, and then rested at a nearby town. However, more information has come to our attention. It seems those who resist Mongauli rule have helped him, and attempt to infiltrate and retake the capital. Therefore, particularly with a large group such as yourselves, it becomes important to check all the signs that point to a missing person, especially a noble of Crystal. One must be quick to detect as soon as something matching the descriptions appears, for there is no doubt that a small clue missed could reap large repercussions,” the guard said.
“But… well… that is the Duke of Crystal you are talking about. You speak as if you would… accuse us merchants of being in league with a noble.” Galius responded in a desperate struggle. “Besides, these two are just women, they couldn’t be the duke of Crystal…”
“Well, truthfully, looks can be deceiving.” The guard raised his hand to his bearded face, and smiled a nasty smile. “I’ve heard that the Duke of Crystal, Aldo Narisse, is one of Parros’ daintiest of men with a beautiful face that could be said to rival that of a gorgeous woman’s. It’s also said that he is still young in his years. If it’s true that he is such a beautiful man, a man that could be tricking our eyes with his womanly physique, whose to say he isn’t this person, cleverly disguised as a merchant’s concubine? In fact, we’ve received word that yesterday two merchants were strangled by what appeared to be a rather handsome gentleman… that woman!” The guard grabbed the young lady’s hand and pulled, disregarding her screams. “You look so beautiful, but are you truly a woman? I could check under those clothes and make sure, you know.”
“Oh!” the young woman screamed.
“Your age matches his description, and you’re quite tall for a woman…”
“This… this is preposterous! Rigia, Rigia!” A young man – identified as Galius’ son – protested loudly. However, Galius restrained him.
“I understand. This was expected,” he said, sore with pain.
“Quiet! It’s her duty. It’s troublesome, but… but for us merchants, time is money. That woman is a slave girl of Salaem. Although it is ridiculous that she could possibly be the Duke of Crystal, please feel free to make sure she is truly a woman. We shall pay a visit again soon. This shall clear us of any suspicion.”
“Oh,” the guard added, paying nary a mind to Galius, “no matter what side you look at her from, she seems to match the descriptions – that beautiful man of Parros. It could be none other than this woman.” Then, the guard began to leave.
“Well, I’ll let you have her. Might I interest you in this one here, too? She is unmistakably a woman, and I have used her for the last 20 years.”
“You can keep that old hag!” The guard scoffed, feeling as though he were being taken for a fool. “The Duke of Crystal is said to be twenty-five, maybe twenty-six years of age. She looks well over 40. There’s no way that’s our man disguised as a woman,” the guard reasoned, though his underlying motive was blatantly obvious.
Galius’ son bit his lip tensely. However, his father tapped him on the shoulder and whispered that he would buy another slave, prompting the son to eventually get back on his horse. The woman in the hands of the guards closed her eyes like a frightened baby rabbit.
“I believe we have taken up enough of your time,” Galius apologized.
And so, the carriage began moving again through the Crystal city gate. From the back of the line of merchants, over the sounds of the heavy wheels creaking across the ground, a faint scream could be heard emanating from the cabin where the young slave woman had been taken.
“Hmm…” Finally, the party came to a halt. The roads had gotten narrower and narrower, until finally they found themselves in the back streets where no cursed, black-armored Mongauli soldier had eyes on them. “What about to the east?”
“By evening, about five zan to Mage Tangas’ house on Aria Street.”
“Five zan… that soon, eh?”
“There, Linus will meet us secretly with Crystal’s rebels.”
“Very well.” The perfume merchant Galius removed his travel cloak, exposing a face that gave off a red, metallic sheen in the glow of a bright street lamp – its shine a signal that twilight was visiting Crystal. Immediately, the gentle man with a soft demeanor, who didn’t seem to know even how to hold a sword, became a man of severity, with hawk-like eyes and an expression tantamount to that of a warrior. The face now belonged to General Lunan, one of the twelve Holy Knights of Parros. The party entered one of the houses. Only three people remained outside in order to move the carriages to another area. The door was broken, and everyone was cautious. The house looked ransacked. “Thank you again.” Said Lunan.
From among the group of people, the concubine – similar in age to Galius – slowly approached. She silently took off her cloak, along with her wig of graying hair. Using a cloth that had been placed beside her, the aged beauty softly dabbed at her face. She began to wipe off the make-up that had produced such cleverly deceiving, false wrinkles. The person who appeared from beneath the mask of an elderly woman, a face that no one could forget, not even a little – the beauty of Parros, nicknamed “The Young Nobleman of Saria” – could only have been the brilliant and dignified Aldo Narisse.
“Surely, you must feel cramped in here. I apologize for the inconvenience, and I’m truly sorry.” Said Lunan. As he said this, the eyes of the beautiful noble child showed a tender mercy and thankfulness. “How fare those wounds?”
“They seem to be fine. It looks like I’m back to my original self again.” The Duke of Crystal accepted the cup of sake served to him and gulped it down. “Finally, I am standing upon the ground of my beloved Crystal.”
“Yes. We must thank Janos for his protection.”
“And also, Valerius’ strategy. Though he is young, he is already a great military tactician.” The ‘son’ of Galius gave a quick bow. Aldo Narisse’ gentle, black hair – similar in length to Rinda’s and Remus’ – was clustered together by a thin copper band. His striking black eyes were suddenly clouded. “Lunan.”
“Are you going to save Rigia?”
“No…” Lunan chewed his lip. However, his next words were spoken quite clearly, “She is a female knight that has sworn her sword to the palace of Crystal. After everything is finished, I will figure out what to do on my own.”
“But…” Narisse looked at Lunan scornfully. “Your one and only daughter…”
“Duke Narisse, I have already said no.” Lunan declared, once and for all. Amazement struck him as he suddenly saw tears forming in Narisse’ brilliant, black eyes. “Duke Narisse!”
“Forgive me, Lunan. I…”
“What are you saying? I am unworthy of this!” Lunan was aghast, raising his hand to Narisse’ bowed head. “Please, please, raise your head. Rigia can fend for herself if it becomes too much for her, she is not weak. She is a woman knight who accepted the role she was given by listening to Valerius’ strategy herself… if Parros can be freed from the black hands of Mongaul at the expense of Rigia alone…”
“I shall remember every sacrifice. I vow to restore Crystal and place it back in my hands as soon as possible.” Narisse pulled out his dagger, making the oath of Parros. Everyone bowed down – the unfortunate disastor lurking within all who were present – and this sudden vow gave them renewed determination.
Then, the secret knock was heard. Tangas – the former Earth mage of the court that offered them shelter – entered into the house.
“I saw Lord Linus.”
“Was he alone?” Lunan asked.
“No. The head of the shrine, Lord Guise; the Holy Knight, Sir Darvalis; a bundle of Crystal merchants; Guild Chief Kelvanus; and Lana, representative of the Princess of Crystal, were all there as well.”
“What about Dalkan?”
“No, he was said to have gone missing at the end of the last battle. One theory is that he was caught by Mongauls and died underground after enduring days and nights of torture as they tried to obtain the whereabouts of both Princess Rinda and Prince Remus.”
“This must be dealt with as soon as possible,” Narisse muttered. In light of the tears that had just been shed, a strict, matter-of-fact expression – still feminine in it’s beauty – showed fierce like the War God, Ruah.
“Uh, well, we spoke with people in all the four directions and not even whether he lives or not is clear. According to that, it may already…”
“As long as we can only assume that, Narisse shall not be proclaimed the Holy King of Parros…”
“But, without a testimony that either Remus or Rinda are certainly dead… no, alive…” Narisse frowned.
Immediately, “Oh… no… you’re right. Let us make haste for Linus. It is the speed at which we move that shall determine our future…” As he stood, with his hand on the table, the shadowy figure in the darkened house pulled out a diagram of the city.
“Hurray for Mongaul!”
“Hurray for Amnelis!” A loud merriment erupted all at once. So great was the sound of cheers that they became rather deafening. Citizens of Torus had gathered before the city gates to watch the Lady of Mongaul’s departure to Crystal, so soon after her tiring expedition in Nospherus. It was not well known among the noblemen of the Gold Scorpion Palace that the departure this time was due to Amnelis’ planned marriage.
“They put in a good deal of work into the preparations.”
“But for a bunch of people, the equipment looks rather light.”
“Yeah, that’s right. That’s because Parros is already in Mongauli hands.
“But… there is still talk of the Parros’ citizens’ increase in destructive activity here and there, and that Commander Tylan is slowly handing it over to the remnants.”
“So, that is why Her Highness must go.”
“But… yes, I suppose she must follow orders.”
“My, my! She looks so beautiful!”
“Ah yes – beautiful and courageous.”
“Look! It’s Amnelis’ White Knight Corps. It’s the Lady’s main force of White Knights.” One of the citizens raised their child into the air, while others held the country’s flag, waving it to and fro, and shouting, “Mongaul! Mongaul!”
It was impossible to know how many people noticed that this departure was somewhat different than usual. The group of white knights was progressing at a steady pace, all on white horses. Dozens of carriages were interwoven between the cavalry. Inside them were hundreds of boxes of clothing and other useful items. Amnelis – Vlon and Lindrot following close behind on her left and right – was without her helm, allowing her blonde hair to flow freely as her horse quietly advanced. Occasionally, she would raise her white-gauntleted hands in response to the crowd’s cheers. Her expressionless face, however, made her look almost inhuman, and nothing could hide the fact that an undesirable mission awaited her in Crystal.
“Hurray for Mongaul!”
“Hurray for Her Highness, Lady Amnelis!”
The cries of cheering reached all the way to the residential district – far from the Gold Scorpion Palace – where noble families dwelled. There – in a small room within a magnificent, white palace – someone was standing, holding the curtains open with the back of his hand. It was Astrias. His face was monstrously pale, and his eyes appeared dazed, as if he was ill.
“I’ve been deceived by Feldrick. Damn it! ‘Intercede’ my ass!” He stopped listening and scratched his head, pacing back and forth around the room. “I shall go to Parros,” he stopped, muttering to himself. Ignoring orders – he understood what disregarding instructions could spell for him. I must go to Parros. I must go to the city of Crystal. He could not think of anything else. He sprung up and began to prepare for his trip. To Parros… To Parros…!
By now, Amnelis and her party were leaving through the large gates of Torus. Far away in Argos, there was Duke Beck… and then there was also Aldo Narisse. Right now, the God of Destiny had woven his threads in all four directions.
And so, perhaps pulled by the threads of Jarn Fateweaver – to Parros he went.
<<Up Next>> Episode 2: Farewell to the Desert Sands
Chapters can take months, so please be patient 🙂 Hope you have enjoyed the story so far, feel free to leave a comment about your favorite part(s).