The Reign Of Three Kings #1
The rich sun rose against the silent charcoal curtain of night, the glistening late summer sky shining beauty upon the world. This particular summer had proven great for hunting, with many groups heading out into the lush vibrant forests of Harrador in search of various trophies. After three weeks out in the wilderness a party of seven was returning home with the trophy of a great stag; Sadon, the leader of the party, had shot it down himself using just two arrows from fifty yards. The ride back home had been tiring, with even the horses becoming exhausted and having to stop at various points along the road however their journey was about to be over with the sight of home reflecting in Sadon’s eyes. Eridad the citadel of Harrador stood only a few miles in front of them, it’s strong, stone, steadfast walls dutifully surrounding it; keeping it safe like a bird in its next. Raised high above in the centre of the city stood Grimsmind, the ancient foothold of the kings of Harrador. Its many grand towers stood tall with early morning sky coating them in light, the beautiful stained-glass windows shimmered with intricate patterns as the great blue and yellow woven flags fluttered high above the rest of the world. To most it was just another city, but to Sadon it was the most beautiful place in the whole of Kartoath. It was home.
Riding down the beaten track, which turned slowly from dirt to cobbles, the party passed multiple merchants, workers and other people doing about their business until they reached the gates; all of them staring in marvel at the stag they had brought home. Two guards stood almost lazily by the gate making sure no wrong doers entered and infected the city. They wore light mail armour with short, but no less deadly, swords by their sides. They both held shields painted with a bright orange phoenix in the middle, the symbol of Harrador.
Entering the inner city, into the bustling and lively Harrador market streets, Sadon’s ears were flooded with the sounds of people shouting out about their goods, the sounds of blacksmiths slamming their hammers onto metal, forging fine blades, horseshoes and jewellery. The market had always been one of Sadon’s favourite places within the city, there was never a dull day, the people made sure of that. Riding through them was certainly a task as so many of them bobbed around, darting from stool to stool and coating the road up to the castle. Sadon didn’t mind, to see his people happy and safe was worth the wait. Slowly the group were able to move through and onto the less crowded streets and move quickly up into the inner city, mainly filled with simple houses. Their timber frames accenting strongly against the stone and wooden planks which made up their walls. From there on the ride was fairly easy and within five minutes the group had made their way to the grand entrance to Grimsmind. The castle stood above the rest of the city and was surrounded by a deep moat that twisted and turned ultimately leading to the mighty, cascading waterfall of Eridad; both beautiful and brutal, from afar its silent, tranquil charm paired with the shimmer of the suns light caused it to be attractive to many however up close it was a raging beast, it’s roar deafening, with the power to take even the most innocent life. As the group rode up to the entrance the fine details that decorated the walls, dragons carved in ancient stone, wolves snarling frozen in time and warriors whose legacies were forever marked on the world. Between the group and the gate stood a mighty bridge that had stood there for thousands of years since the beginning of Harrador, it was built out of ancient stone which had been carved into beautiful patterns yet also felt threatening and strong, as if a legion of men could not bring it down. It was the only direct entrance into the castle, or that’s what almost everyone believed, proving a great defence if the castle ever encountered a siege. The castle had many secrets only some of which Sadon had discovered, including secret rooms whose purposes had long been forgotten, hidden tunnels built ages prior and even entrances to the castle known to only a few including him. Grand oaken doors stood in front of them, they remained closed until a head bobbed up above the turrets on the wall.
“Open the gate!” a muffled voice from behind the walls shouted, “Prince Sadon has returned!”
And with that the doors creaked open exposing the inner castle. A large courtyard filled with guards, servants and workers busy working put down their tools and quickly hurried towards the doors before bowing. With a raise of his hand and a smile on his face Sadon dismissed them and they all carried on, returning to their jobs. Finally, the journey was over, the group rode their horses into the stable and dismounted. The feeling of his own feet on the ground gave him an overbearing sense of relief.
“Sadon,” boomed a cheery and familiar voice from behind him. He turned around to see the commander of the household guard walking towards him before wrapping his arms around him giving him a truly welcoming hug, “I hope the wilderness treated you well.”
Lord Aster had been the commander of the household guard for almost nine years and before being that had served in the guard since before Sadon could even remember. During his younger years he was renowned as being one of the greatest swordsmen and honourable men throughout the whole of Katoath, Sadon had grown up on the stories of all his brave deeds and adventures even pretending to be him when he, his brother and his cousins would play. Tales of how he had accompanied his grandfather in leading the charge of Tetnire during the Skartaran civil war, how he bested countless knights from all over the world in tournaments and all the noble acts he had done to keep people safe. Although his strength as a fighter had slowly began leaving him as he grew older with his muscled body became larger and his hair turning from black to grey, he had never lost a shed of honour, remaining a legend.
“It treated me well enough,” the prince responded, if he was being honest, he had preferred his time away to his usual life at home. No rules, no duties and no father. As much as he liked his life as a prince and a soon to be king the sense of freedom would always try to lure him back. He began to laugh and added, “but I am certainly glad to be home, I was beginning to miss my life of comfort and luxury!”
“Well don’t worry your grace, we’ll soon have you back to your life of luxury just you watch,” Aster jokingly responded as he did he turned and gave orders to servants to tend to the groups horses and take the stag to the kitchens. Sadon wanted it prepared for a feast marking his return, he planned to invite everyone from the castle both servants and nobility alike.
“Now then, I’ll take you to your brother,” Aster said as he gestured towards the keep, “he’s been training with Asher and Leif whilst you’ve been away.”
And with that the pair began to walk away from the main entrance of the castle and into the keep.
Light grey stone made up the foundations of the castle and as the two walked towards their destination they passed pillars and woven banners, rooms and kitchens, glistening guards and humble servants. To fill the silence Lord Aster began to talk about matters of state that Sadon had missed while he was away.
“Grain has been pouring into the city from the harvests, according to Lord Mandain the records say that this year has been the best harvest in over two hundred years, aside from a few bad harvests in the North.” Aster happily informed him, despite knowing it was necessary for when he became king Sadon himself had never been excited in statecraft but news of prosperity throughout the kingdom was always welcome.
”Furthermore,” the lord added, “We’ve received news from Rookpoint, the eldest son of Lord Gallomere is turning eighteen and as a result his father is hosting what he calls the greatest feast Harrador will ever see, It’s rumoured that he’s already spent over thirty gold pieces sparing no expense, even organising a tournament with a handsome reward for the champion. He has asked for you personally to join them.”
“It sounds like quite the occasion, make sure word is sent back to lord Gallomere letting him know I would be honoured in joining them.” Sadon responded excitedly. He had heard much of Lord Gallomere and his events they were said to be the wildest events in all Harrador, with Gallomere himself being even wilder. Sadon had met him once however he had been only six at the time and could not remember much about him aside from his loud voice and his upbeat personality. When talking to his father about Gallomere he was often remarked as loyal but stubborn to his core, disliking having his ideas questioned.
“Now tell me,” Sadon said as he saw the door that would lead them to his brother before asking, “what have I missed at home, how has Laken been coping without me? And Asher, is he showing himself to be a worthy knight?”
“You’ll be able to ask them yourself,” Asker replied, initially confused as he saw the door himself.
“And I’m sure I’ll hear how good they’ve been, and only how good they’ve been,” Sadon explained knowing that Aster would know both the good actions and bad actions of his family. And he trusted his opinion.
“With no doubt about it,” Aster agreed hinting that maybe not everything had gone smoothly, “Laken took on some of your responsibilities while you were gone and managed to handle some of them very well however others he struggled greatly with and I fear that they cause him stress and he becomes bored and frustrated with them easily. He’s been unwilling to compromise with other lords and wants things done his way rather than theirs unlike yourself.”
He had worried about Laken the most while he had been away, his brother had always had a short temper, he often felt blessed to have been the first born, and heir to the throne, as Laken lacked kingship skills and instead was more focused on fighting. This had been Laken’s first real test of his leadership skills and it was clear that he still needed work.
“He’s still just sixteen with time to adapt, matters of state are nothing to him compared to waving his sword about, but then again perhaps he needs guidance in the right direction from both me and you,” he suggested before carrying on, “and Asher, how is he fairing as a knight?”
Asher was Sadon’s distant cousin related though his great great great Grandfather Jerick the unruly who had ruled Harrador well over one hundred years ago. A month ago, he had been Sadon’s squire, serving him well for years, rarely disappointing him and when he did it was usually for something minor like spilling wine. When Asher turned eighteen, he had relieved him of his duties, initially confusing him, before making him a knight of Harrador an honour which Asher had wanted for a long time. A just reward for a loyal squire.
“He’s become a fine knight, certainly living up to my expectations of him,” Aster responded happily whilst scratching his beard before elaborating, “He’s been training others and maintaining his honour,” He briefly paused, Sadon immediately knew what this meant. “Asher will always be Asher; he rides through the streets whilst twilight has taken over the sky singing songs and visiting a different tavern every night… with a different maiden every night as well.”
This was not surprising to Sadon, Asher was as filled with seeking fun as a scabbard was filled with a sword, the pair had visited taverns together before in the past and it had always been clear to Sadon that his cousin was entranced with wine and ale, not to mention the women who served it.
“As you said, Asher will be Asher and I won’t fault him for that. He loves the common people and above all that’s what will make him one of the best knights this kingdom has ever crafted,”
The two stopped at the door, laughing could be heard from the other side.
“Speaking of,” he added before pushing open the door.
Much like the rest of the castle, the short walls of the open area were made of light grey stone which appeared almost sandy under the light of the sun with mismatched stone cobbles made up the floor, sandy dirt filling in the gaps between them. This was Sadon’s, amongst many others, favourite part of the castle; the view of the dark blue ocean littered with streaks of white made it truly something to admire. Attacking each other with blunt training swords were his brother Laken and his other distant cousin Leif both of which had a way to go before they would be an expert fighter like Lord Aster. Giving instructions and laughing when one of the two made a foolish mistake was Asher, his hair had been left to grow whilst Sadon was gone and had now grown down to reach the top of his eye.
“I thought you preferred your hair shorter,” he said as he walked over to his cousin. Realising that it was Sadon, Asher’s face lit up and the two shared a brief hug.
“And I thought you were meant to be a pretty prince, but that stubble proves otherwise,” Asher playfully lashed back pointing at his face, “and anyway I’ve been too busy with my knightly duties to have it cut back.”
“Ahh yes, Lord Aster has just been telling me about all your nightly duties,” Sadon replied with a smirk on his face. Laken who up to this point had been pushing his cousin back, turned his head to see who Asher was talking to not initially realising before returning to fight. However just a second later turned his head back realising his brother was home, unfortunately this allowed Leif to catch him off guard and strike him across the chest. Laken looked at Leif.
“Well done,” Laken said bitterly however attempted to cover it up with sincerity and in a playful tone added, “next time you will not be as lucky!”
The two brothers embraced with yet another hug although this one felt much closer, with far more emotional impact, lasting longer than any of the others.
“I’ve missed you,” Sadon said as the two began to break away.
“You too,” his brother said quietly, Laken had never been one to show his emotions but when he did it was clear that he was sincere, before adding “how was the hunt?”
“It was good,” He responded as he reminisced on his adventure thinking of the best parts to talk about before coming out with,” I shot down a stag as large as a horse!”
Even though he fully well knew that the stag was actual the size of a pony he saw no harm in exaggerating his prize. Laken scoffed.
“Next time take me with you, and we’ll be back in a week instead of three,” Laken joked however had a sense of ambition in his voice, no doubt about it Laken thought he was a better hunter despite having no hunting experience.
“Well if you’re sure about that I see no reason why I shouldn’t,” Sadon agreed while laughing, “I see your fighting has improved, you’ll be able to best Asher soon,”
“I could beat him now,” he mumbled under his breath as he began walking back over to Leif.
Sadon smirked, and Asher hearing what his cousin had said began to laugh.
“You hear that Asher?” Sadon said about to tease his brother for his arrogance, “Laken here thinks he’ll beat you in a fight,”
“Is that so,” Asher playfully said as he walked over to Leif taking the training sword out of his hand and holding it out Infront of him in a combat stance, “come along then cousin, let’s see you best me,”
Laken began walking over to Asher but before he turned to his brother and smiled as he shook his head, “I hate you.”
Laken raised his sword and for a moment the pair were still and unmoving, waiting for the other person to take the first swing. Suddenly Laken began the fight and swung while yelling attempting to put Asher off. Asher easily deflected the blow and remained in a defensive stance while Laken kept attempting to land blows. Eventually Asher began to appear lazy and allowed Laken to come very close to hitting him before pretending to fall back from the clashing of their swords.
“Please Laken stop!” Asher laughed as even while on the floor he deflected his cousins blows, “I yield! I yield!!”
Asher’s performance had overcome them all, Leif had started laughing which in turn had caused Sadon to join in, followed even by the usually stern faced Lord Aster who had been watching the whole time and eventually even Laken who at first had seemed annoyed that he was being made fun of. From out of the laughter came the ringing of bells. Initially it was quiet but as the laughter died they became as loud as thunder, ringing in peal. Normally this would signal a royal arrival or the wedding of a high lord. But neither of these were happening and the clanging that echoed through the city was chaotic rather than melodic. It was a warning. Something dark had arrived.