I live and die without regrets.
For I have acomplished deeds of Virtue.
I have sacrificed my own well-being for that of my people.
-The final entry in the diary of Tarnor Dredanal
Dated February 1, 664 AB (274 CE, 50 VE)
…In the year 391 AB, deliverance from our land's plight was finally received.
The mythic Avatar returned to Britannia and vanquished the armies of the
Guardian, ascending to the heavens. From Bordermarch, Magincia, and the
depths of Deceit, our people once more flocked over the land. The year
is remembered as the beginning of the Christophrean Era (CE), named for
Lord Christopher of Bordermarch (347-403 AB), founder of the new kingdom
and former companion to the Avatar.
…It was not until the twenty-fifth year of the new calender (415 by the ancient years) that the land had been repopulated to its height under the reign of Lord British. That year Christopher II was crowned the first Emperor of Christophrea. The slogan "Mani Vas Lor Christophorous"* was engraved at the entrance to Castle Britannia's throne room, where it remained until 14 VE (238 CE, 628 AB).
*(Mani Vas Lor Christophorous: The Light of Christopher Shines Bright)
…Yet without a magnificent figure such as British, the Christophrean Empire declined through the 510s onward, its golden age lasting less than a century…
…Antran of Minoc's declaration of the independent Kingdom of Minoa in 533 AB (143 CE) came as a shock to the nobility of Britain, but was not wholely unexpected. Of all the city-states, Minoc was one of the strongest and most self sufficent…
…Ruler of one of the strongest kingdoms in the realm, in 585 AB (195 CE) Arkus of Trinsic declared the founding of the Empire of Greater Trinsic. He was the first king to declare himself equal to the Christophrean rulers…
…The rule of Markadays III, last Emperor of Christophrea, was marked by losses since the beginning. The year after his 602 AB (212 CE) coronation, Antran IV declared Minoa a separate Empire. In the following years…
…The balance between these different kingdoms remained until the Jhelomic Revolution in 613 AB (223 CE), when the Valorian Archipelago was liberated from New Montaria by peasents led by the commoner Tarnor Dredanal.
-Exerpts from "The History of the Second Continent"
Last revised 809 AB (419 CE, 195 VE)
Dredanal, Tarnor (588-664 AB): Considered by many to be one of the greatest military and political leaders in recorded history, Dredanal was born in the city of Jhelom during the Christophrean reign of…
-Valorian Encyclopedia, 812 AB
A hero he
Who came unto the land
At Virtue's call
By the Avatar's hand
When tyrants ruled
For greed did monarchs reign
From Jhelom did he come
Forever shall we sing his name
All did he give
And for naught did he ask
A saviour he was
And great was his task
Yet before he was king
He stood as a man
Nobility he shunned
All but to unite the land
-Verses written by the bard Enelfia, alleged consort to Tarnor Dredanal, upon the day of Dredanal's death
Dredanal, Tarnor:…And upon that evening was marked the founding of the
Empire of Valoria.
Tome One of Four:
The Birth of an Empire
We sat around the wooden table, feasting over the great events of this
day. The sun had long set outside the docks, but we took no heed of this.
"An impressive battle it was." A tall, burly man with a bristling blond beard laughed, downing his glass. I sipped quietly at the red wine. The casks we'd found probably dated since before Christophrea, for the marks of the Empath Abbey were upon them.
"Aye." I replied, still lost in my thoughts. I'd spoken little all evening, pondering the events of that day. We had indeed won a great victory, but our struggle was far from over. I doubted it had even begun.
"Why so glum?" A muscular man a few years my senior with brown-red hair spoke. "Thou wert the hero of the conflict."
"There were no heros, friend, merely names recorded in tomes of ages to come." The oldest man spoke up. His fine black hair was streaked with grey. He stroked his thin goatee thoughtfully. His dirt-stained sircoat bore the emblem of a silver serpent.
"Not to undermine your achievments, milord," He turned to me, "You have no need to listen to a silly old man like myself."
"Hah!" I laughed, downing another glass. "I owe much to thee, as do we all. Tis been a long road the four of us have journeyed."
Four? Ah, there were at least a dozen brave, worthy generals sitting about me. But they knew my meaning. They knew of these three, my closest friends and allies. I was nothing without them.
"A long road…" I repeated, staring out over the Great Sea. Trammel and Felucca shone down on the waters.
"And," I turned back to my comrades. "A road far from over. But we art lucky. We didst not start this, though somehow I suspect we shalt finish it."
"Indeed, 'we' did not! Twas thou, of course!" The bearded man laughed.
"No," The old man turned to him. "Not at all. Twas a tale which began with a man of high ambitions who felt life's only sin wast monotony. A great warrior was he, this knight of the Serpent's Hold…"
New Montor, Kingdom of: …Centered upon the Isle of Deeds. The kingdom arose
from the small city of New Montor, built around the ancient castle of the
As New Montor expanded to cover nearly the entire Isle of Deeds, attention turned to the town of Fellows, based upon a small rocky island to the east of the Isle of Deeds. Though little compared to the great cities dating back to Britannia, Fellows prospered and grew rapidly in the two decades of its golden age…
In 598 AB (208 CE), a treaty with Greater Trinsic negotiated the annexation of several islands in the southern Cape of Heros into the kingdom…
The kingdom remained relatively stable, though never truly independent of Greater Trinsic, until 611 AB (221 CE) when Generals Taljehn and Ingamar led a fleet…
The tale of Valoria's birth began here, upon the Isle of Deeds. A great
paladin of the Order of the Silver Serpent stood atop the ancient keep
of Baron Sentri, the Serpent's Hold. Westward he stared, the distant waves
crashing upon the shore. Long did he stand there and ponder, knowing his
destiny was not to remain a knight only in title, a warrior only by bearing
a sword and shield.
From below a woman several years younger walked up to him. The warrior displayed no reaction, yet a flinch of annoyance crossed his face for the briefest of seconds.
"Why dost thou come here day after day, husband?" The fair lady spoke to him. "Why art thou not happy as a lord of the order?"
"A lord of what?!" The knight snapped at his wife. Their eyes met for several seconds. Then the knight once more looked forth to the waves.
"We have nothing here. We sit in our keep waiting for some new situation to present itself."
"The kingdom lies stable--"
"To hell it runs stable!" The warrior clenched his fists, his anger deepening. "We've become decadent and dependent on the damned Trinsicians. Yes, the Order of the Silver Serpent remains. But for what? When have we bore our blades in the honor of our ancestors?"
"Thou wouldst not have the kingdom make war on Trinsic?" The woman paled. "Brave though we art, tis mightier than Christophrea!"
"No, dear Numiev." The warrior's anger faded and a slight smile began to spread on his face, perhaps at the thought of the great walls of Trinsic occupied by soldiers of the Silver Serpent. "Conquest is the destiny of New Montor, but not northwards. Let Arkus' Empire run its course and die, we need not concern ourselves with it. But what of other provinces?"
"Where? Whom couldst we sign a treaty--"
"Treaty, bah!" The knight once more looked on with scorn. "We are a land of warriors. We do not make treaties. The scrap of paper signed in the '8th was a 'treaty' of cowards. We shalt take lands by force!"
"But where, husband??? The Triumvirate? Or, surely thou dost not mean--"
"Indeed, I do mean that we shalt find the Valorian Archipelago, resting place of the great city of Jhelom. Long during the days of Britannia wast Jhelom our order's sister. Valor is the purest form of Courage. But what of the City of Valor during late Christophrea? Nay, it didst not ever declare independance from the rule of Britain. Indeed, but doth thou still think such a far away province wouldst follow the call of an empire whose northern border does not extend past the Serpent's Spine and whose southern border doth not even reach Paus?
"Nay, Jhelom and the three isles hath clearly stooped to barbarism, ruled by one warlord or another. They are ripe for the taking, meant as a province of New Montaria!"
"Thou art too ambitious." The warrior's wife replied, still not turned by his arguments. "To control the entire archipelago wouldst double the area of our kingdom, and I doubt thine forces couldst sustain such an action. Tis far too risky, particularily if it offends one of the three empires."
"A risk we must take, Numiev. Tis better that the New Montarian Kingdom dies in a mighty war than lives as the sick man of the Second Continent."
The warrior walked away, proceeding down from the roof. He paused as the lady's cry echoed after him.
"Thou wilt be the doom of the house of Taljehn, if not all New Montaria."
"I will keep my honor, as I am certain all my fellow lords will. All else is expendable for us. Thou shouldst learn that. Thou'rt like any woman, agitated by such small matters, not at all the behavior the daughter of an illustrious noble shouldst show. Trust me. The order shalt agree with my proposals."
But all this was unknown to me at the time. Far away, irrelevant. I knew
nothing of Serpent's Hold or the Isle of Deeds. I knew little even of the
Valorian Archipelago itself.
My childhood is like a shattered mirror, only pieces and fragments of which remain intelligable, never to be repaired. My parents died early on, doubtless I would've died too. But I lived on the streets and survived, picking the morsels I found in the gutter.
I'd seen so many different tyrants in Jhelom I could not count their number. It seemed every month another coup wouldst place another warlord in the palace. But I did not care. None of the illiterate peasentry cared, for there was no difference other than the banner carried by their arrogant soldiers.
I was a nameless, unrecognizable figure, no different from countless spreading the streets of Jhelom and Nujelm. A guard would beat one of us here or there, perhaps drag off one with an offensivable air, never to be seen by my eyes again.
But somehow I knew I was different than the rest, that there was more left to me. I stared upon those who passed by, being able to tell their demeanor and vaguely their thoughts. I did not beg or grovel. I sat and thought, my mind engulfed by visions and stories pointless, without any meaning to my current situation.
And I was educated. I've long forgotten where I learned to read and write, yet the knowledge hangs with me. For years I also carried a single number with me: 198. One ninety-eight, one ninety-eight… It was years before I realized this was the year of my birth. Yet the number stuck with me forever, a permanent part of myself.
And thus was my tale at the time the great ships sailed forth to the Valorian Archipelago.
Order of the Silver Serpent: …Founded during the early days of ancient
Britannia, the order made up the vanguard of Lord British's armies…
…As Christophrea became divided and dissapated into city-states, the order took control of the Isle of Deeds and the new Montarian Kingdom…
"The twelth generation of the family of Taljehn?"
"Aye." The warrior knelt before the tall throne. Statues of the great knights of the order dating back to the days of Britannia stood to either side. The other knights stood in a half-circle behind him, while four figures stood in front around the lord.
"Tis quite a audacious request thou dost bring us. Thine call is for a fleet of sturdy ships and two regiments of our finest knights?"
"There is more than that, my lord." Taljehn replied. "I seek the blessing of yourself and the Order of the Silver Serpent, so that I may conquer the Valorian Archipelago in thy name."
"Thou art ambitious. Seek ye to become the next lord?"
"Never. I seek only honor."
"Leave us as we conferr."
The aged lord stroked his white mustache. Though not a hair atop his head remained brown or even grey, the lord was a well-built impressive figure, clearly a great warrior and leader in his youth.
"Thoughts, my friends?" He spoke up.
"He clearly seeks thy throne, milord. I would not trust the man." One stated.
"Tis a risky campaign, no matter whom led it." Another responded.
"Yet it would bring great honor to the kindom were it to succeed." A third put in.
The lord sat back and sighed. "I shall be quite frank. I doubt that I will live more than another year or two. My time is approaching. If the expedition is a success, my successor can claim the glory, but if it is a disasterous failure, I doth not want mine own honor tarnished by a connection with it.
"Taljehn's ambitions are not his conscious motivation, yet they are clearly growing, and a victory would accelerate the process. Though my son and heir must protect his own throne, I shall not allow myself to be overthrown through a coup. An assault on the Valorian Archipelago is a risky decision, true, but it wouldst be a great success. Yet Taljehn must not be left alone to claim this new province, nor be allowed to remain out of our reach. A second general is needed to command the armies of the Silver Serpent. Whom stands forth as a beacon of loyalty and courage?"
"There is the distinguished Lord Ingamar, but he is over sixty. Mayhaps we hadst best find a younger--"
"Nay," the lord cut his advisor off. "Ingamar shalt do nicely. For Taljehn needs a mentor more than a ruler, and the wisdom of an elder may do much for his character and loyalty. Now, I have reached my decision!"
One by one, the paladins cycled in and took their places. Taljehn came forward and knelt before the throne.
"Lord Taljehn, thy request shalt be granted. A fleet shalt be placed at thy command, as shall a legion of the kingdom's finest warriors. Go forth and conquer the Valorian Archipelago in the name of the kingdom!"
"Aye, my lord!" The warrior looked down, trying to conceal the estatic smile that broadened his face.
From the crowd, an aged knight stepped forward and knelt down. His hair was black, yet streaked by fine grey. A goatee marked his face with an air of dignity and nobility.
"Thou shalt accompany Lord Taljehn in leading this campaign forth. Your duty is not only to him, but to the Order of the Silver Serpent, the New Montarian Kigndom. If these two directives conflict, thou doth know where thine loyalties are to lie."
"As you command, my lord."
"Lords Taljehn and Ingamar! Thou hast the blessing of thy liege! Repay this grace with thine honor towards our kingdom!"
Midway between the Isle of Deeds and the Valorian Archipelago lay the small,
forgotten island of Farthing. A small village stood here, oblivious to
any empire or kingdom.
Only the oldest and wisest there understood the significance as the New Montarian fleet swept towards their isle. At first the visitors appeared peaceful. They made no acts of violence nor pillaged the farms.
But the wise knew these warriors would not leave their small town in the manner they found it. Before the fleet departed, the mayor and his advisors would swear complete, unfaltering alliegance to the Order of the Silver Serpent and the Kingdom of New Montor, if not willingly then through force.
As Taljehn and Ingamar sat at a fine Silverleaf table in the mayor's residence, these thoughts did not penetrate the mind of the younger man. Taljehn did not consciously notice how he and Ingamar took up residence here at the center of the town, nor how he ordered the mayor to fetch extra ale. The mayor, a shy, timid man, was merely another servant, too fearful (or perhaps intelligent) to disobey these knights of the Serpent's Hold. Taljehn never considered the process of annexing Farthing into the Kingdom of New Montor, for he felt it had been part of the kingdom since the instant he stepped foot upon the sandy beach. Taljehn never thought of leaving troops here upon Farthing to keep the locals in check, for it seemed too obvious for him to need make mention that soldiers would remain.
The older Ingamar, however, comprehended and understood all within moments, knowing from experience the very mannerisms that Taljehn and the mayor of Farthing would show. He pitied the mayor and the community slightly, but did not rest his mind on it. The process was inevitable and unimportant. The two generals had traveled abroad to find the Valorian Archipelago, not to tarry upon the small Farthing. Every event here was secondary. Until Jhelom and the rest of the cluster fell to New Montor, nothing else mattered.
"I believe we shalt stay here for the night." Taljehn spoke at the mayor, who ackwardly ambled into the room. "See that beds are made up for us."
"Yes, sir." The mayor responded after a pause, sighing. He felt the pattern emerging, just as Ingamar did. Only he knew that while the two knights couldst leave and forget Farthing forever, this day's events would haunt the mayor forever.
"Now then," Taljehn turned back to Ingamar. "What wert thou saying?"
"Nothing. I believe I wast listening to thee." The older man replied, though in fact he had been discussing plans for the next day's sailing. He could tell from his junior's jovial mood and the amount of ale he had already consumed that no decisions would be reached tonight.
"Oh? Indeed, indeed! Yes, I think you were!" Taljehn laughed, his cheeks glowing red. "I was telling you… Oh dear me, I'm terribly sorry, old man… Let's see…" Taljehn smiled again, by now quite drunk. "Well, what was I telling you?"
"Your ambitions." Ingamar replied, seizing the moment.
"Ah! Ah yes… Yes… You see, my friend, as you certainly know, our lord reaches his final years. Yet he hast borne only three heirs, none of whom hath proven their courage or distinction in the kingdom."
"Indeed." Ingamar sipped a glass of ale casually. "Thy intentions?"
"You see, my friend, if we succeed with this campaign, our prestige will rise to great heights. We will be great heros of the kingdom, my friend!" Taljehn rose and pointed upwards, "And then--"
"Your beds are ready whenever you desire rest, sirs." The mayor entered suddenly.
"Oh yes! Thank you! Perhaps we'll retire in a few hours or more… Ah, you may leave now…"
Taljehn turned back to Ingamar as he sat down, an intoxicated glare still in his eyes. Yet the older man could see that he had lost the opportunity, at least for the moment. Taljehn had recovered enough sobriety to know he was being baited, and avoided the question.
"Now then, old man, what was it you were going to say?"
"I said," Ingamar sighed, "That I wish you well in your ambitions, so long as…" He trailed off.
"So long as you remember that Valor is not the only embodiment of Courage." Ingamar finished.
"Hah!" Taljehn laughed, downing another glass. "I think we shalt be great friends, old man! Yes, we shall become great friends…
"I say, my friend, where art thou going?" The older man stood and proceeded towards the doorway.
"I believe I shalt retire until the morrow. We must set out again at dawn. Good night."
Valorian Archipelago: A formation of three isles to the far southwest.
During the early days of Britannia, the city of Jhelom was built upon the
central isle, becoming one of the land's eight great cities…
…On the southern-most isle rests the mystic Shrine of Valor. At the other end of the isle lies the town of Nujelm, founded circa 410 AB (20 CE). The northern isle remains devoid of towns, though several forts and encampments were constructed there during the Siege of Farthing (614-615 AB, 224-225 CE)…
…The archipelago was gradually forgotten and left to itself during the decline of Christophrea. In 611 AB, a New Montarian fleet led by generals Taljehn and Ingamar attacked the archipelago and claimed it into their kingdom in only a few weeks…
The ships had been spotted long before they arrived. The news caused a
stir at first, then was followed by an all-too-encouraged silence. But
in the final days, hysteria mounted once more.
I remember little of the invasion itself. Passerbys would talk to each other in an excited manner. Flames would rise into the sky from Nujelm. Figures rushed through the streets frantically. Some sought their own personal glory, others merely salvation and escape.
I remember the Montarians in those days as tall, proud warriors in shining mail with colorful sircoats. They captured the isles and stood atop the castle's balcony. A blond-haired man in his thirties led their procession. He decreed ourselves free from the tyranny of our opressors. The despot deposed was swiftly executed, his head proudly displayed for weeks.
Yet even as those around me cheered, I hated the Montarians. They wore fine clothes and carried themselves well, but they wert no different from the archipelago's other rulers. They wouldst plunder and pilliage away our lives and demand gratitude for it. And then they wouldst depart, content to move on to a different land.
But it was enough! Enough for Jhelom to hath suffered! I could no longer stand to see such a world as this!
Change, that was what we needed. Change…
Away from the hellishness of this world…
"Eh? Who is it?"
Great shall thy destiny be, Dredanal…
"Who art thou?!"
You need not carew of that for now. Your destiny is all that matters…
"Then what be my destiny, voice?"
Much shalt you acomplish, yet much shalt you sacrifice as well. Art thou willing to take up this quest?
"Sacrifice? I hath nothing to lose. What is this quest?"
Oh, you shalt lose much, Tarnor Dredanal. You shalt gain that which you darew not to even think of now, but you shalt lose enough that thou wilt eventually envy thyself at this time.
"What is this quest???!"
I need not tell you, nor influence the lives of mortals. But I see that thou hast accepted it and thy fate is sealed. Continue as thou wilt, Tarnor Dredanal, but know your fate has been prophecised.
"Wait! Tell me more!"
No, you already know far too much. But let me say that if you knew of your fate, you wouldst not have accepted this.
I must depart, Dredanal! The bard of Magincia wilt be thine blessing and
thine curse! In two inhumans wilt thou place more trust than many a man!
Let the empire of Valor rise because of thee!!!!
"Geddap, yah lousy vagrant! Thes' streets ain't no place to sleep!"
The high sun of noon peeked down upon me, enshadowed by the rising buildings. A Montarian guard stood over me.
How long they'd ruled here I no longer remember. Half a year, I estimated, but perhaps more or less. The cheers and ecstacy of their arrival wast long gone. They had settled into their place as merely another regime of the archipelago's rulers.
Yet they wert worse. They sapped away our livestocks and resources, sending it all back to their mighty castle across the sea. Their lord sat brooding above Jhelom, his paranoia leading to the construction of the Wall.
"C'mon, I say! We don' want yah stupid bums litt'rin' up the town!"
I slowly rose to my feet and looked up at the guard with annoyance. Where once I wouldst have slunk away quietly, I now felt unknowingly bold, and dared as I never did before to consider being spoken to as more than an obstacle in the streets.
"Yah leavin' or not? I ain't got all day, idiot!"
With lightning speed, faster than I had time to contemplate the logic of my actions, I threw a swift punch into the guard's stomach. The man wast protected by his armour, yet the blow still knocked the wind out of him for a moment, which was all I had to race off through the streets.
"Bastard! I'll get yah fer that!"
I raced through the alleys, never once looking back. The guard's noisy footsteps were joined by a second pair, presumably a fellow Montarian. To this day I contemplate my actions in striking the Montarian, and I yet feel that none of the events I'd participated in would've happened if not for this.
Despite their years policing this city, I still far outwitted the Montarian guards in knowledge of the streets. Barely looking forward, I made my way through the town towards a small blacksmiths', hidden in the crowd of the central bazaar.
A tall, muscular man looked up as I entered. He was a few years older than me, with short hair colored a brownish red. His face was without beard or other hair, however, giving him an appearance much younger than his years. As he saw me, an expression of anxiety mixed with resignation clouded his face.
"Quick!" I panted. "Two guards!"
"In here!" The blacksmith replied, opening a carefully concealed trapdoor within the wooden floor.
As I jumped down within, the trapdoor closed almost instantly, leaving me in darkness. Insects skittled around me as I crouched in the tiny space. I heard the sounds of the two guards rushing in.
"Hello, sirs." The blacksmith said in a suspiciously calm voice.
"Where'd that one go?" A guard's gruff voice sounded.
"Who?" The blacksmith feigned surprise.
"Wearin' black, long red hair, no beard. Where is he?"
"I have no idea who you're talking about."
There was a silence for a moment. I continued to listen through the trapdoor.
"Identify yourself!" One of the guards shouted.
"My name is Handaran. As you can see, I am a blacksmith. I have lived in Jhelom all my life and I am a citizen of New Montaria. You have no right to interrogate me in such a manner."
"Shaddup!" The guard barked. "Search the place!"
I heard the sonuds of heavy footsteps and objects being thrown around. For an instant I feared I wouldst be found, then remembered that none had ever penetrated this hiding place yet. I sensed that Handaran remained where he was standing, remarkably calm.
"Sirs," The blacksmith continued, "As a member of the Artisans' Guild in Minoc, I cannot allow you to destroy my property in this manner."
A deathly silence hung about the room. I grinned at the ploy.
"Your proof?" The guard spoke at last.
A clinkling sound echoed as Handaran pulled an object form his pocket.
"The silver three-pronged ring of the Guild. I trust you are familiar with the symbol?"
A silence followed. Slowly, I heard the guards leave. The trapdoor opened and I emerged.
"Works as always, old friend. Whom did you lift that ring off of, anyways?" I grinned.
"Damnit, Tarnor, I don't know why I put up with you anymore." Handaran replied. "You can't depend on me to keep bailing you out forever. What did you this time? They seemed quite riled up."
"I say, Tarnor!" A burly man with a thick blond beard rushed in. "What were those two tin snakes* up to?"
*(Tin Snakes: Presumably a reference to the images of the Silver Serpent adourning the sircoats of New Montarian soldiers)
I grinned. It was Vassily, my best friend and my only friend, at least until we met Handaran. Unlike myself, a beggar and thief, or Handaran, the respectable one amongst us, Vassily was a simple labourer, though he and I shared a disrespect for legalities. In fact, we'd met Handaran while trying to loot his shop. The blacksmith was a sharp one, but also kindhearted, and he's casually been helping us ever since. To Handaran, Vassily and I were on the same financial level. But to myself and the communities of beggars in Jhelom, Vassily was like a rich man, living in a small cottage filled with at least three other families and over a dozen screaming children.
"Nearly tore the shop down searching for your friend." Handaran replied. "Now, Tarnor, canst thou not tell us what idiocy thou wert up to this time?"
"I merely struck one of them." I replied.
"Hah!" Vassily laughed. " 'Bout time someone stood up 'gainst them!"
"Tarnor," Handaran sighed, "I believe you've known me long enough to understand I don't regularly go around befriending cutpurses. But I used to think you were smarter than those around you, undeserving of your fate. It appears I was wrong."
"Twas but a whim, old friend. I shan't not cause so much trouble for thee often."
"Even so, thou'rt too reckless for me to keep out of sight."
"Next week I'm departing for Nujelm on business matters. I'll be taking thee with me."
Handaran turned away. Though Vassily preceived little, the blacksmith and I both realised there was far more to this request.
"And I do know some people who will be interested in thineself." Handaran muttered.
From atop the central balcony stood a great warrior, look down upon the
No, he thought. His city! His kingdom to rule and judge! To him did Jhelom and the archipelago fall! To him shall it bow, not the Serpent's Order!
"A beautiful city…" Taljehn muttered as he looked down upon the twisting streets and the mighty Wall.
Yes, the Wall. His stronghold, his citadel, his great achievement. Forever shall it stand as a monument to his acomplishments.
The warrior saw the people, his people, milling about their work and lives down below. They are like ants, he thought, and I direct them. I am their master.
"Milord?" A voice called.
Taljehn grimaced in anger as he turned to the messanger. How did this simpleton dare address him so casually.
"What is thine business?!"
"Milord, the king at New Montor and the Hold lies ill. The order wishes for a representative from the archipelago to return."
Taljehn paced into an ajoining room and wrote several hasty words on a piece of paper, then handed it to the messanger.
"Go to Nujelm and deliver this message to Lord Ingamar. He will return to the Isle of Deeds with you."
Taljehn was once more lost in thought as the messanger left. It could, perhaps, be a trap, the foolish lord growing paranoid of Taljehn's wisdom and power. But even if it were real, and the lord truly lay on his deathbed, Taljehn's presence would not sway matters. Too much of the order was still against him, jealous of what he had done.
And now Ingamar would leave, perhaps not to return to the archipelago. Good. He'd been little more than a nuisance to Taljehn, a lackey of the order sent to spy upon him. Now Taljehn could at last be rid of a remnant of the order's power over him.
I am in control here, Taljehn smiled. The archipelago is mine. I shalt see that it remains so.
Handaran's rickety carriage was decaying and uncomfortable, yet I still
felt a sense of power merely from riding atop anything at all. Once I merely
cowered in the gutters of the streets, now I looked outward at the dirt
road and green fields, while Nujelm loomed in front of us. To the north
the mighty tower and the Wall shown magnificently, yet a dark fog hung
about the city, one I'd never noticed before. I remembered that never before
in my life had I ventured forth from the city so far. Never before had
I gazed upon the rolling plains and the flat countryside. Today's memories
were those of beauty, one's I would try to recapture for the rest of my
We reached Nujelm in the early evening. The city reminded me much of Jhelom, though it seemed smaller, more spread out, and simply more "open", probably from the lack of the claustraphobic Wall.
The days events had tired me, and I was ready to retire to the small bed in our room at an inn. But my companion proved restless.
"Not yet, Tarnor. We hath much to do tonight."
"Canst thy business not wait until morning?" I replied, though I knew it would do no good.
"Tis not the business for my shop that awaits now. There art more important matters."
"Indeed, like sleep!"
"I'm serious, Tarnor." Handaran did not smile. "I wouldn't hath brought thee here without a definite reason. Come with me."
Handaran led me through the twists and turns of Nujelm, clearly well-associated with the city. Guards flocked the streets, yet took no particular notice of us.
We entered a small but crowded tavern. The blacksmith led me through several rooms in the back. Many people seemed to recognize him, though several threw an odd glance at myself.
Finally, I was led down into a dark basment. The wooden stairs creaked under me. At a table sat some half-dozen figures, shadowed except for a single candle at the table's center. Handaran and I sat at empty seats.
"We've been waiting." One of them spoke, ignoring me. "What is the situation in Jhelom?"
"The same as ever." Handaran replied. "My contacts report that unrest and tension is growing, but too slowly to be effective against the Montarians. The people still fear Taljehn and his Wall, and they still hath no definite leader to look up to."
"I see." Another replied. "Your thoughts?"
"I'd say that our plans art stagnating. The Montarians are different from the archipelago's other rulers. A true rebellion will be needed to oust them, more than another palace coup."
"As thou hast said and we hath agreed before." A third answered. "And, as always, we ask more of thee. The personal guard and spies might be enough to overthrow Nujelm, but the city of valor remains steadfast. You know well that we cannot leave Nujelm or exert our influence too strongly away from here, Handaran. We've entrusted you with the responsibility of liberating Jhelom."
"Indeed, and that is why this meeting shalt be the most important we hath held yet."
"Eh? Speak thyself!"
"With me as thou canst see is a newcomer, no doubt one whom you think merely another contact. That is not so. I hath stated and continue to believe that the rebellion needs a charismatic leader who canst stand proud and influence the peasentry as none of us can. I believe I hath at last found the proper man. He be a commoner like myself, yet displays more intelligence and concern for his land than any others I have seen before. With thine perimission, he is to be trained and initiated into our circle, eventually leading the true uprising against the Montarians."
Murmers echoed from around the table, but were suddenly silenced by an authoritatave voice. At the far end of the table sat a middle-aged figure with a black beard and a pondering expression. He turned to me.
"I am Tarnor Dredanal."
"Thine thoughts on your friend's speech?"
"I canst not say, for until a moment ago, I knew naught of what the blacksmith wouldst speak. I've known him for over a year, yet never did I guess at these events which circled around him."
There was a pause.
"And you would dedicate yourself to the Valorian Archipelago and the driving out of the Montarians?"
"Less than a month ago, I couldn't say. I still doth not fully comprehend what is around me, and if this all be not just a dream. But I do tire of seeing the injustice of the world, and do wish that it could be ended, if that is what thou dost ask."
"That wast not the entire question. Wilt thou be willing to dedicate thyself to this cause, perhaps giving your life so that we may once more be free of the Montarians?"
"I hath little to give for any cause save my devotion and my life. Yes, I would dedicate those for the freedom of our realm that was once Britannia."
I heard more murmurs. Once more they were silenced by the head figure.
"Enough, he hast made his choice. Handaran, take this one back to Jhelom with thee. Instruct him as thou wilt. Further orders will be granted as events warrant."
"Aye, milord. Come, Tarnor."
I slept most of the next day. Handaran was out most of the time on business.
When he did return, neither of us spoke a word. At dawn the next day we
set out for Jhelom once more. I still sat silent, pondering my fate.
"Something wrong, Tarnor?" Handaran remarked as the carriage hobbled along the dirt road.
"Thou'rt a good actor and a shrewd liar, Handaran. I take it you wert intending to make me one of their agents ever since we first met, eh?"
"Nay, Tarnor." The blacksmith looked slightly hurt, yet I could tell he expected the accusation. "I befriended you and Vassily as friends, nothing more. Forgive me for involving you in this, old friend, but I feel that your life is worth more than to pass itself as a beggar."
"What of Vassily? Shalt he be allerted of this?"
"Aye, I suppose 'twill be impossible to keep it from him forever, at any rate. Though a bit of a braggart, I trust him as much as thee. When we reach Jhelom, I'll fill you in on our plans, and tell you of some of your other contacts in the city."
"But why didn't you tell me all of this before we reached Nujelm, Handaran?"
"Suspicion, paranoia, mostly. Eyes and ears lurk everywhere. Never shalt we be safe on the archipelago."
"One last question, old friend. Whom were those men we met? What is their motive in all of this?"
"They--" Handaran sighed. "Tis not really important, anyway, Tarnor."
"Answer me, Handaran."
"Oh, alright. They are the court of the regime from '15 - '18."
"What?!" I shouted. Handaran brought the cart to a stop.
"Not so loud, Tarnor!"
"You're helping those bloody tyrants?!"
"Do you prefer the Montarians?"
"I'd sooner die resisting both factions on my own then siding with one to defeat the other!"
"Noble words, my friend, but do you really live up to them? Look, Tarnor, I'm not particularily happy about this either, but we've got to do something for the archipelago. At least the foreigners'll get kicked out."
"I suppose thou'rt right." I sighed. "Yes, we must make do. Tis better than doing nothing for the land. Yes…"
"…The infidels ride through our street and claim that they own our land…"
I smiled at the praying monk I passed on the street. Though he did not know it, I was partly responsible for the current situation on the archipelago.
"…But only Lord British or the Avatar couldst claim leadership over us…"
Fifteen months had passed since I returned from Nujelm with Handaran for the first time. Much hadst happened to me since then, though it would become a blur in my later years.
"…We are people of the Virtues, not dogs who bow before servants of the Daemons…"
As the lords in Nujelm had intended, I'd gradually assumed control of Jhelom's dissidents. There wast not a street I didn't know, nor an art to influence the people I wast not soon a master of.
"…Ancient Montor opposed British and sided with dark Erstam. We forsake the Virtues to side underneath Montaria…"
The time for a final rebellion would be soon. The people are becoming watchful and anxious. But we must hurry. The Montarian guards art becoming suspicious, though they have only increased their vigilance slightly. We must hurry.
"…Let the Avatar come and save us from our plight. Let those of Virtue rise up at his side and fight alongside the hero for the sake of great Britannia…"
Nay, I shan't tarry here any longer. I cannot attract suspicion to myself. I must meet with Vassily and Handaran.
"Tarnor!" Vassily called as I approached the blacksmith's.
"How fares things, my friend? Handaran returned yet?"
"Thou'rt quite lucky. He arrived only a half-hour ago and is wanting to speak with thee."
Handaran sat at a table within, drinking a mug of ale. He greeted me warmly.
"How fares the situation in Nujelm?" I smiled.
"Better in some ways, worse in others." Handaran smiled as well, but he sounded weary from the journey.
"Explain." I sat down opposite him. Vassily pulled up a third chair.
"Well, the good news is that the word of rebellion is spreading. Tis still not as strong as here in Jhelom, but there's at least a large enough force of peasents."
"And the bad?"
"A second Montarian lord has arrived, one of those who first conquered us. He's been gone from the archipelago for over a year, left around the same time I let you two in on this, in fact. I can't say this won't cause us more trouble."
"This lord--" I stopped.
"Ingar, I believe. Or Ingamir. Something like that."
"Regardless, you don't think this will affect us outside Nujelm, however, do you?"
"I can't say yet, Tarnor. He'll probably be basing himself in Nujelm, but I doubt the lords of the two cities will remain wholely unconnected from each other."
"I'd say the situation gets worse, and it is our time to strike." Vassily remarked. "We've gained enough support and we're still for the most part undetected. It's time we fight back, Tarnor!"
"I agree, old friend, but we must consult the Nujelm lords upon this. Handaran--"
"Actually, Tarnor, the lords art expecting thee in two months. They seem to be planning the same thing as us."
"Two months? Twould be suspicious if you left the city again so soon--"
"Not this time, Tarnor." Handaran smiled. "I'll be staying in Jhelom with Vassily. Thou shalt go alone."
"I?" I laughed. "I didn't know you trusted me that much, old friend!"
"Hah!" Vassily laughed as well. "Now then, friends, as I've bought several bottles of the tavern's finest ale, let's kill the evening away in celebration!"
It was only a short distance from Nujelm to Jhelom, but the aged man insisted
on taking a ship. He did not want to pass through Jhelom proper just yet.
Even the docks of Jhelom were built outside Taljehn's paranoid Wall. The old warrior stared at the structure with disgust in his eyes, as he had expressed even when the building first began.
The castle had been built into the northern part of the Wall. The old man's ship pasted the east docks, used for merchant vessels, to a small pier at the north of the city, where he disembarked and was greeted by several of Taljehn's manservants.
"Greetings, Lord Ingamar, we trust your journey was a pleasant one?"
"Quite." Ingamar smiled. The servants led him through a portcullis gate into the castle section of the Wall. Few knew of this special entrance. Taljehn only wanted to use it in the need of a quick escape, but Ingamar saw it as the only easy way into this structure.
He truly is paraniod, Ingamar thought. Escape? What does he fear? Internal rebellion? No, though the old man had heard of growing disorder, he could not imagine Taljehn as such a coward.
He plans to betray Montaria, then? Ingamar remembered the orders he had been given by the order back on the Isle of Deeds. He knew where his loyalties lay if Taljehn did pursue this goal.
"Ah, Ingamar, old man, a pleasure to see thee again." Taljehn laughed as the older man was led onto the balcony. Though Taljehn had a small throne room, he always preferred to stand out here and look down upon the city he felt was his own.
"Tis been over a year, Taljehn. How fares the archipelago?"
"Oh, quite good, quite good. But enough of me, why didst thou not return sooner?"
"I only returned to the archipelago a month ago. I've still been making preparations, and that is why I couldn't pay my respects to you sooner."
"Nay, my friend, I meant why didst thou stay on the Isle of Deeds for so long? The order hast more purpose for its knights than to recline at the Hold, after all."
Ingamar waited in silence as the servants left. He knew the effect his words would have on Taljehn.
"I only returned when I did," Ingamar paused, "To inform you that our lord has passed away."
Taljehn took a step back. His face paled.
"No… So soon…"
"His eldest son is to be crowned the next king of New Montaria. If thou wish to leave and pay your respects, I can manage the archipelago--"
"No! Jhelom is mine!" Taljehn snapped. A silence hung over the two for several minutes, as both were lost in thought.
"I'm… truly sorry for my outburst, my friend." Taljehn smiled weakly. "But, something must be done. Yes…
"Yes, I know! For the new king I'll fashion a great helmet of gold, it's horns of ivory, imbedded with great jewels! And I shalt build a great monument for the tomb of our dead lord, standing tall and proud at the Hold! Twenty, twenty-five feet it shalt reach into the sky, a noble monument in memory of a noble king!"
"The coronation cannot be put off more than half a year." Ingamar replied. "Thou'lt have to work the peasents to death--"
"Then I shall work them to death! I shalt show them the punishments for disrespecting my city and my kingdom!"
"I…" Taljehn paused.
"You sicken me at times, Taljehn. Thou art causing a rebellion against thyself, yet you also plan a coup against the order and our liege! Have you no shame?"
Taljehn stared into the older man's eyes. He spoke in a whisper.
"You… I understand now. Yes, I understand." Taljehn smiled, but his voice cracked with rage. "You seek the archipelago for yourself, don't you? You art jealous of what I hath acomplished. For over half a century were you a knight of Montaria, but never, I repeat, never did you acomplish a single deed of merit!" Taljehn's voice rose and he began to shout. "You sat there content in your little castle that you only earned from your ancestry! Then I, young enough to be your grandson, double the size of our kingdom, while you sit back and watch! Is that it, Ingamar?! Art thou trying to betray me so that you can claim honor for yourself?!"
Taljehn continued to shout and rage as Ingamar silented walked away. He boarded his ship and told his servants to set sail for Nujelm. He uttered no other words during the journey.
Ingamar knew that Taljehn's power was falling apart now, but he knew the final blow would not come from New Montaria. Those of the archipelago themselves wouldst rise up against Taljehn.
And Ingamar, still bounded by his oath to serve Taljehn except if the younger man betrayed Montaria, wouldst fall prey to this same rebellion, and doubtless die just as Taljehn wouldst.
Ingamar pondered this silently. He resigned himself to his fate.
Evening approached as I drove Handaran's carriage back to Jhelom. The Montarians
hadst dealt us a great boon with their recent actions. Labourers and craftsmen
worked day and night to build their monument. Outrage towards their barbarism
"We art quite lucky." The Nujelm lords had remarked to me. "All we need now is a final push. Thou hast permission to begin whenever thou'rt ready and feel the moment is ripe, Dredanal."
Yet even after over a year, I still felt uneasy serving under the onetime oppressors of the archipelago. I felt that once the Montarians wert overthrown, my purpose wouldst be completed and I would be cast aside, leaving them to rule once more. Was there a purpose in merely substituting one evil with a lesser one?
As I neared the bridge to the middle isle and the Wall loomed in the distance. I felt pride as I, once a beggar in the streets, now rode atop a carriage pulled by a horse. Twas a shoddly built thing, and the horse wast little more than a starving, wasted pony, but at the time I considered myself one of the most influential and luckiest men upon the archipelago.
It was late night by the time I arrived in Jhelom. I made my way towards the blacksmith's, but already I couldst sense something wast wrong. Crowds gathered in the streets, exchanging excited whispers.
Handaran's shop was boarded up. Two Montarian guards stood in front. Blood smeared the street. About a dozen other guards were milling about, some dragging away bodies. A small fire burned at one end of the blacksmith's though no one seemed to particularily care. A huge crowd of peasents flocked about, though the guards tried to disperse them. A priest chanted words of rebellion within the crowd, yet few paid attention to him.
"Tarnor!" A familiar voice whispered from an alleyway. I quickly followed it and came upon Vassily, his face and hands smeared with blood. He was panting for breath and appeared quite frightened.
"Vassily! What happened here?"
"They found out about us, Tarnor, don't ask me how. They came to arrest Handaran. We fought back, there was a lot of commotion all through the streets… I killed a man, maybe two. But their were too many. The Montarians dragged off Handaran. I don't know how many others they know about."
"Damnit." I cursed. "But no matter. It appears our hand is forced to come earlier than any of us expected. Disorder shalt grow among the city. We must hurry, Vassily. Twill be a long night."
The rest of that night and the next two days passed as a blur for me. Vassily
and I raced about town, spreading the news to all our contacts and preparing
them for a great conflict. By the second night after Handaran's arrest,
all Jhelom knew of the blacksmith unjustly attacked by Montarian guards
and his shop ransacked. Enrage grew, not so much from a thirst for justice,
but from a fear of a similar fate befalling all.
Tonight we struck. A huge mob gathered outside the old barracks, carrying torches and whatever makeshift weapons they had. Several dozen extra Montarian guards had been posted here since the protests began, but the mob wast not swayed in the slightest.
Hours we stood there as the sun set and the moons rose up in the sky, shouting jeers and threats at the guards. Though we outnumbered them, the Montarians still knew the fear they inspired, and showed little concern towards us.
"Go on, ged' bac' to yah beds an' don't both'r us no more!" They called, but we did not move. A few left and joined the mob, but for the most part we remained in place. Vassily and I stood near the front, though we wert not clearly the leaders of this.
As eleven came, the Montarians had had enough. An armoured figure carrying a halberd approached us and jeered.
"Well, look at all th' little boys out here tryin' to look lik' men!" The guard walked back and forth across our line, eyeing us contemptuously.
"Ungrateful bastards! After all the order's done fer you, all you bloody well can do is stan' out 'ere an' keep some men from their beds!
"Hah! An' you think you're so smart!" He laughed. "An' you think you're so brave! Hah! Jus' lookit yerselves, paradin' around 'ere lik' yah think ye're knights!"
Gradually, people recoiled at the Montarian's words. Many began to split off from the mob.
"Knights, hah! We come 'ere and do so bloody much for you, an' you haven't even the decency to be grateful! Hell, if yah ask me, ye're no better than our dogs! Ye're just as bloody stupid as a beast! Now geddon b'fore we haf' ta drive yah off!"
The mob began to disperse. A single, illiterate, uneducated man's taunts had frightened over a hundred detirmined men. Only a bit more than half the original crowd remained, and many were edging their way off.
The Montarian guard continued to pace back and forth in front of our line. He stopped just an instant longer in front of a middle-aged peasent with dark brown hair. In a flash, the Montarian raised his halberd and brought the wooden end down on top the peasent's skull. The man fell to the ground and moaning, blood trickling from his wound.
"Well?!" The guard barked. "Geddon! Ge' the hell outta 'ere!"
A deathly silence fell over the crowd, only the peasent's moans remained unabated. Each face within the mob turned a pale white. Several more inched their way out of the crowd.
And then suddenly a change fell over the mob. The white of fear in their faces wast replaced by the red of anger, rage. We forgot why we hadst come here, but our purpose became certain. We reacted as a single being, responding to an attack upon part of itself, seeking to destroy the threat.
The mob fell upon the Montarian, Vassily and I with it. The tall wooden doors to the barracks slammed shut, but the mob fell upon them. From above archers shot down arrows upon us, but with each death our anger only grew.
With a creak the doors crashed open, and the mob flocked within the barracks. We ran through the large complex, attacking all guards whom stood in our way. Our objective became unclear, merely to slaughter all whom stood as our enemies.
I rushed towards a Montarian, his mouth opening wide as he saw the battle raging within the barracks. Consumed with an unknown rage, I lept upon him and tore at his throat. The guard and I fell to the stone floor. I pulled a short dagger from my belt as we gasped for breath.
The Montarian still lay on his back as I lunged at him and plunged the dagger into his chest. For a brief moment, the Montarian's head jolted up and he stared at me with wide eyes. For the first time I saw that I did not stand against a merciless destroyer, but against another human being. I stared into the Montarian's dark eyes and his bearded face. A soft groan escaped from the Montarian's mouth and his head slumped back to the ground. His eyes remained open, yet a blankness now englufed them.
Death. I stared at the dead man, realizing what I had done. I thought over my life. It had been rather uneventful, perhaps some wouldst call it worthless, but I had lived for years and decades and with each certain memories were attached. I thought of my life, my mind, my thoughts and my philosophies. In each man upon the realm rested the same feelings, even this one. And in a single instant, I had ended all those memories and ideals treasured as sacred by this man. Never before had I ended another's life, and forever wouldst I remember this moment.
I scrabbled around on my hands and kness, staring at the battle that raged throughout the complex. I felt alone, separated from the single mob entity that had consumed me. I stared at the carnage with horror and revulsion, shocked at how casually these people ended each other's lives.
Remembering why we had assembled here at the prison in the first place, I pocketed a keyring from the dead guard's belt and rushed into the mob. I saw Vassily some distance across the room, a mad glow in his eyes like all the others.
"Vassily!" I called, trying to get a clear view of my old friend.
"Tarnor?" He turned towards me, brought somewhat out of his homicidal trance.
"I've got keys!" I held up the clinkling keyring. "We've got to free Handaran!"
"Handaran?" Vassily blinked, still coming back to his senses. "Yes! Yes! We'd best hurry, Tarnor!"
We ran through the hallways down to the basement, where the prisoners were kept. Moans echoed from the cells around us. After a frantic search, we found Handaran's cell and helped the blacksmith out.
"Art thou alright, old friend?"
"Tarnor! Vassily! Thank ye!" Handaran replied as he stumbled to his feet. "I'm quite lucky. They'd captured several dozen other alleged dissidents the same evening as me, so I haven't been beaten or robbed yet. Another week or so and I'd've been dead for sure!"
"Tis good to hear that, Handaran. Come, the rebellion hast reached its greatest moment."
Soon all the other prisoners were freed and the Montarian guards killed or driven off. The barracks was burned to the ground as we looked on. At last the archipelago was fighting back against its oppresors.
And as fate would have it, the peasent first beaten by the Montarian guard was trampled to death in our initial stampede.
My sincerest apoligies for the argument between us at our last meeting.
I am certain we have both been preoccupied with other matters and become
I am, however, saddened to hear of the recent riots in Jhelom. Mayhaps you should abandon the construction of a monument for our deceased lord. We all know of your faith and loyalty to the order, and such a gift would not be required of you. The golden helmet, which I have heard is finished, is homage enough for the new lord.
I heard only a few days before that Jhelom's old barracks was burnt down by rioters. Though I am certain you have the situation under control, I must insist that this uprising be put down as soon as possible. Already protests have errupted in Nujelm, and while they are being dealt with satisfactorily by my guard, they appear to be a reaction of Jhelom's tension, and I do not want the entire archipelago thrown into chaos.
Taljehn read the letter with clenched teeth. So, he thought, once more
doth I receive the veiled threats of that dog of the order. No matter.
The paladin stared out over the balcony at the city below. His city. How did the old fool dare to think Taljehn did not even have control over the city he was responsible for?!
The barracks was no matter. Twas built decades ago, and was the only of its kind in Jhelom outside the Wall. The dissidents would be executed. They would regret making war against his city.
Fear not, the rebellion in Jhelom will be put down. But I shall not be
responsible for whatever fate engulfs Nujelm. Let harm come to that city
and I will hold you accountable.
The monument shall be built, as I have planned. The golden helm is indeed complete, and it shall be worn by the next lord of New Montaria.
Several weeks had passed since the burning of the barracks. The riots had
increased and the tension engulfed the city.
Tonight we struck. Tonight the tensions had reached their greatest point. Now was the time to reclaim the archipelago for those who lived and died here.
"My friends," I spoke to Vassily and Handaran, "I am forever grateful to both of you for all our friendship and experiences together. If we do not survive this night, let it be known that we at least died for a cause we believed in."
"Your orders, Tarnor?" Vassily asked.
"Handaran, take the fastest horse in the stables and ride to Nujelm. Vassily, as midnight strikes lead the protestors upon the eastern guardhouse of the Wall. We need a massive riot and at least on structure burned down.
"When you see the flames in the sky, Handaran, you should be near Nujelm. Ride through the streets and shout that the rebellion is at hand. As you know, the peasent army is already mobilized and awaiting our signal there."
"And yourself?" Handaran asked.
"I'll be with Vassily when he launches his attack. I'll sneak into the guardhouse and through the Wall. I'll see if I can get to the palace and capture the Montarian's lord."
"But, tis madness! None canst make it through the Wall!"
"I shalt try, friends. Some last instructions for you, Handaran. Vassily, see that none other than the three of us know of this."
I spoke what I needed to say to both of them. There was a long silence.
"Are you certain?" At last Handaran said.
"Indeed, I believe it is what must be done. Now, we've tarried long enough! We must hurry!"
Vassily and I rushed off into the crowd as Handaran headed for the stables. I turned to Vassily.
"A thought occurs to me, old friend. If you find me dying, remind me of this conversation."
"What is it, my friend?"
"I've decided what my last word is to be as I die."
"Oh?" Vassily looked amused. "And what's that?"
"Veramocor, my friend. Something I remember from a dusty tome somewhere, and it always stuck with me. Tis just a whim I felt just now. Ah, but enough talk. The moment draws near."
Ingamar wiped the sweat from his brow. It had been a long and tiring day.
Taljehn's letter had arrived, and the old paladin knew the younger man
was slipping deeper into his arrogance and insanity. There wouldst be no
saving the archipelago now.
Tension had been growing rapidly in Nujelm. Ingamar sighed. He was old, yet he still did not want to die this soon. The paladin marched across his spacious bedroom and looked out a window upon the east. Jhelom loomed high--
A great red inferno hung over the city. Ingamar rushed from his room through the halls. He heard shouts and cries of battle from outside. Several guards rushed by, not noticing him.
"A dissident uprising, milord. They're breaking their way through the gates. We must hold them off."
Not yet. Ingamar whispered through clenched teeth as the guards rushed off.
"Not yet! I cannot allow New Montaria to be made a mockery of in such a manner!"
The cries from outsdie grew stronger. Ingamar rushed through the corridors to the central hallway. He heard the gates being battered down. Several wounded guards stumbled by. Ingamar continued to stand there with his mouth open. Still disbeliving what occurred around him.
A crash echoed as the doors to the palace crashed open. Nearly a hundred peasents armed with wooden spears rushed in. A group of several dozen surrounded Ingamar nefore he had time to move. A figure armoured in plate mail strode in proudly.
"I doth capture thee and claim Nujelm in the name of the royal house of--"
"Of whom?!" A voice cried from outside. "Hast any nobility claim over us?!"
From atop a mighty horse rode a muscular man about thirty with red-brown hair. In a swift stroke, he struck down the armoured man with a mace. The peasents, shocked, pointed their spears at him.
"Stop!" Handaran yelled. "Do you think the ex-nobility goading us will be any less despotic than the Montarians? Our lord is Dredanal of Jhelom, a commoner like you or me!"
The peasents lowered their spears. Ingamar stared on at this scene.
"Arrest all Montarians or member's of the archipelago's former nobility! We now rule our own land!"
"It seems," Ingamar smiled as Handaran rode up to him. "That my executors are no more than barbarians, content to squable amongst themselves for power in so base a manner."
"Quite a tongue thou hast." Handaran replied. "But for now thou shalt be spared, we hath need of thee."
The Wall: A structure built around Jhelom in 611 AB (221 CE), considered
the last great architectural acomplishment before the Valorian Era. The
Wall was built under the order of Lord Taljehn of the Kingdom of New Montor,
supposedly to keep assassins from ever reaching him.
Built onto three of the four sides of the Wall was a single gate and guardhouse. The eastern gate led to Jhelom's docks, the southern gate to the bridge and road to the southern isle, stretching to the Shrine of Valor and Nujelm, and the northern gate to Lord Taljehn's private docks, planned as an escape route in the event of an uprising. Also built into the northern side of the Wall was Lord Taljehn's entire palace. The palace had no entrances save a secret passage in the north gate and through the passages of the Wall itself.
But the other parts of the Wall are what made it such an intriguing structure. The interior of the Wall was a giant maze, almost completely impossible for one to navigate. Even stranger, it was said that the Wall's passageways did not have a distinct shape. Rather, they moved and changed as one walked through them, forever trapping the assassin. The identities architects of this wonder are unknown, though it is suspected that Lord Taljehn trapped them within the Wall itself so that they could never reveal its secrets…
Silently I crept through the passages of the Wall. Outside I heard Vassily
leading the riots. But that did not matter to me now. I needed to find
the Montarian lord and keep him from escaping to seed his evil elsewhere.
I'd heard stories and rumors of the hellish Wall, and I felt a shiver of fear as I tiptoed through the corridors, knowing that a wrong step couldst doom me to rot here forever.
I stumbled as I tripped over a brittle object. Looking down I saw a rotting skeleton. Unless the Wall was also used as a dungeon, I knew that others had tried what I was now about to attempt, and they had failed.
"Guide me, Virtue…"
I continued to make my way through the silent halls. Even though my step was soft I could heard the piercing echos of each footstep.
I felt the stale air wash over me as I was gripped by a feeling of hysteria. I couldn't go on! I couldn't let myself die in here! I must turn back while I still have the chance!
But I ignored this feeling. I continued onwards in what I hoped was a northern direction. I knew the archipelago and, somehow, all Britannia depended upon me. I could not abandon my quest.
I continued for what felt like hours. I tried to remain calm at all costs, even when it took all my strength merely to keep from turning around. And then, at last, I felt a breath of cold air. I open my eyes and wiped sweat from my brow. I had survived.
I stood in an empty, deserted throne room. Passages zoomed off in many
directions. The sounds of the riots echoed once more, a familiar sound
after the terrible silence from within the Wall.
A wide, arched doorway led out to a massive balcony. There stood a man in a full suit of armour with a sircoat bearing the image of the Silver Serpent. On his head he wore a golden helm embedded with jewels and topped with two horns of ivory. I knew at once whom I faced. This was the Montarian lord whom I so despised, whom I saw as the embodiment of all evils done against the archipelago.
"So," The Montarian lord turned to me, calm. "Have you finally come to kill me?"
"Yes, that is my purpose here." I drew forth a sword I'd picked out from Handaran's basment storage earlier that day.
"Hah! Thou wield thy blade as a wrong-handed coward and fool! Ah, but you art a fool. Your foolish peasent army stands against me, Lord Ingamar stands against me, and the entire Order of the Silver Serpent stands against me, but it is all in vain!
"They know I was meant to be the true king of New Montaria, yet they fear for their own foolish positions! They art not worthy of being knights of the order, of claiming to know of Courage! Let your death stand as a warning unto them all! Defend youself!"
Wielding a mighty battleaxe, the Montarian charged upon me. I dodged quickly, knowing my puny sword was too weak to deflect a blow from that weapon.
The Montarian stumbled. Consumed by his rage, he had charged blindly upon me and lost his footing. From the side I aimed a slash towards his neck.
Yet the paladin lord was still a far more skilled fighter than I. In a quick motion, he swerved and knocked the sword from my hands, sending it skidding across the tiled floor.
"You are weak! Your death is nigh!"
I ducked a horizontal slash from the Montarian's axe and lunged for my sword. The Montarian charged after me.
I clasped the sword just as the Montarian was upon me. As he raised his axe to bring it down upon me, I spun around and stabbed him in the chest with my sword.
For an instant as I pushed forward my sword, I thought my battle was over. But as the blade connected, I heard a foreboding snap.
At that moment I cursed Handaran and his poor skills, for my sword had snapped upon impact with the Montarian's armour. Both of us stared in silence for a moment, not fully comprehending what had just happened.
We came to our senses almost at the same time, but my reflexes were slightly quicker. Throwing away the sword hilt, I dealt a swift punch to the Montarian's face. He stumbled back, his helm falling to the ground.
"A cowardly action, not one of a true duelist. No matter, I shall still triumph!"
I was quite lucky that the Montarian was still off balance, or his next attack would have killed me then and there. Instead, as he swung the axe I was only grazed by the wooden shaft, though the force of the blow was still enough to knock me to the ground.
As I fell to the ground, I saw the golden helm lying just feet away, staring at me mockingly. I sensed the Montarian lifting forth his axe for a final blow.
And then I know not what happened, save that I was possesed by a detirmination more powerful than I thought capable of myself. I grabbed the helm in my left hand as I lunged at the Montarian lord, knocking him to the ground.
The Montarian's axe fell to one side, and I pressed the sharpened ivory horns to his throat. The battle was over. The Montarian had lost.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" Taljehn laughed contemptuously. "Get it over with!"
I could have killed Taljehn of the Serpent's Hold in that moment, but another thought struck me. I remembered the Montarian guard I'd slain at the old barracks. I realized that I did not stand over the embodiment of all the archipelago's suffering, but of another human being like myself.
"Kill me!" Taljehn barked. "I'm not afraid to die! I have the Courage to face death!"
I looked into the eyes of the Montarian lord, and I saw suffering, torment. I saw even pleading, begging for me to show mercy and end this man's life, so that he might better serve the principles he was raised by.
"You speak of Courage, Montarian, and perhaps you do indeed have the Courage to die. But do you have the Courage to live?"
"Eh?" Taljehn's expression betrayed nothing, but I sensed that he had dreaded this.
"Have you the Courage to face the Order of the Silver Serpent and admit to your loss of the Valorian Archipelago?"
Taljehn was silent. His face had turned pale.
"That is the fate you will receive, Montarian. That is thine fate, it appears."
Slowly I turned away and walked out onto the balcony, still carrying the golden helm. Below in the city, our city, small fires still burned, but the battle was over. The Montarians were routed, and a similar fate had probably occurred in Nujelm.
Several people down below saw me from atop the balcony. A crowd began to mill around there with rapid speed. I saw Vassily within it, and smiled at the joy and exiliration in his expression.
But, I realized, I could not merely stand here and ignore the crowd. Lifting the golden helm high, I uttered a single sentence.
"Upon this day, we of the Valorian Archipelago do claim this land as ours!"
It had been less than a week now since I fought with the Montarian lord.
Already the Wall was being torn down. My temporary keep was an old stone
building, the mansion of a rich merchant.
There was still much to be done. A large part of Jhelom had been burned down and many rioters were dead. Grain storages were rapidly depleting and famine wouldst soon set in if something was not done.
But before I could resolve the archipelago's domestic affairs, I must deal with the loose ends of the revolution. Vassily and Handaran stood on either side of my makeshift throne as the Nujelm lords whom first recruited me were brought in.
"See here, Dredanal, what is the meaning of this?!"
"While I am grateful to you for your help, I cannot allow the Valorian Archipelago to once more fall under the hands of tyrants, now that it has been liberated from New Montaria."
"You swore an oath to us, Dredanal! You promised to serve our cause!"
"Nay, I swore myself to the freedom of the entire realm, all of ancient Britannia."
"Britannia is dead and so is Christophrea, you idiot romantic! The world's been falling apart for nearly a century and we have little to do but grab a piece of it for ourselves!"
"Then I claim the archipelago as mine and shalt try to bring its cities back to their golden age during the days of the early kings. You, however, shall have to seek your piece of the Second Continent elsewhere.
"If you think you are to be exectued, then I must say that I have no intention of taking thy lives, milords. However, the archipelago is no longer a welcome place to you. I exile you all away from here, to wherever you seek your fortunes!"
As the lords were being led off, a last shout echoed from one of them, words I wouldst forever regret.
"Damn thee, Dredanal! Know that my cousin is Lord Veratan of Christophrea! Continue with your ambitions and someday you shalt fall to him!"
One last prisoner remained to be judged, Ingamar of New Montor. I ordered him to be brought forward.
…I was led by the filthy peasants before a wooden throne. On it sat a young
man in black with red hair hanging to his waist. An air of dignity hung
about him, absent from all I had previously met.
I hated him with my first sight. Though Taljehn be a traitor and a lout, I still regreted all that had happened on the archipelago because of this man and his ambitions.
"Kneel!" One of the peasant guards shouted at me. I made no response, and continued to stand where I wouldst, refusing to humble myself before those to whom my life was decided.
"I said kneel!" The peasant shouted again, and raised a hand to strike me.
"Nay," The dissident's lord put in…
"… Let the 'noble' stand if he wishes." I finished. I continued to eye the old paladin before me with contempt. Like all his kind, he'd been spoiled and pampered all his life and now considered himself my better, because I'd been forced to sleep in a dirty gutter. I hated this man from my first sight of him.
"You are… Ingamar of Montaria?" The "lord" asked.
"Aye, though I hath no responsibility to answer to thee."
"Speak not to Lord Dredanal in such a manner!" A burly man with a blond beard standing next to the "lord" barked.
"Hold thy tongue, Vassily." The "lord" responded quickly. "I wouldst hear what our captive has to say."
I looked onward upon those whom I knew to be my executioners. My fury grew as I faced this "lord".
"From your mannerisms and expressions I know much of thee, Dredanal. You consider yourself a symbol of the people, of the archipelago itself! But what are you truly, but another monarch and tyrant like those you so despise? What are you, to sit atop your little throne and play king before one of your enemies?!
A tear began to trickle down my cheek as I realized that these words may well be my last. But I continued, my rage only growing.
"What are you, to sleep and eat well while your people starve and die, having fueled your quest for power?! What are you, to hate those born above you, when their ancestry is no more their fault than yours?!
"Do you feel yourself justified to this extravagance because you wert once poor?! That means nothing! Those who even now rot in 'your' streets are just the same, though perhaps you consider them less 'worthy' than youself for this!
"I do not justify mine own actions…"
"…But I ask you, what are you to condemn others for the same faults
that you yourself exhibit?!
"What are you, Dredanal, that you justify yourself in such a manner?! Answer me, 'king'! What are you?!"
A long silence hung over us as I stared at the old paladin and watched tears fall down his face.
"And now I doubtless go to my death at thine hands, Dredanal. So be it."
As I watched this Ingamar, I remembered once more the burning of the barracks and the Montarian guard I slew. I no longer hated the old paladin who stood defiantly before me, but loved and respected him. I knew I couldst not let him fall to the fate I originally intended.
Pushing my "throne" away, I knelt before Ingamar and wept.
"Oh, how cruel fate be, that we shouldst hath been destined as enemies!" I cried. "Death mayest be the fate thou art destined to, but I cannot by the Virtues bring myself to let any harm come unto one as noble as thee, sir knight!
"What thou sayest is correct, noble paladin. You hath lifted a veil from my eyes, one which I hid behind perhaps willingly. Yet under thine instruction I wouldst strive to achieve a higher level of spiritual wisdom, and I wouldst offer thee my throne."
The dissident's lord's outburst shocked me as much as any of those present.
I hadst expected a reaction of enraged fury, instead I received mournful
regret. I felt my hatred towards this Dredanal seep away. He was not the
greedy tyrant I'd first thought. Wise was he, though hidden well this was
under his bitterness. Yet what impressed me most of all was his desire
for change, his lack of stagnation, his will to become something different
from what he was. Perhaps I, old and set in my ways, merely envied this
as unachievable for myself, yet still I recognized it as a rare talent.
I respected this Dredanal, and I saw him as, perhaps, the sort of lord
all true knights wouldst die for and serve under with complete loyalty.
"Rise, Lord Dredanal," I helped the peasent-king to his feet. Tears still littered both our faces. "I cannot reign for what thou hast acomplished. Rule thy archipelago and rule it well, for already Spirituality shines bright in you."
I knelt before the Valorian Archipelago's ruler. "I offer myself as thine vassal, and beg of a chance to serve thee and be worthy of thine kingdom."
"I accept, and I thank thee once more, Lord Ingamar, for the Courage thou
hast shown in guiding me and the archipelago in our future."
Slowly, the old paladin who was to become my mentor and best friend rose and departed. Others left as I stared on in silence, until only Vassily and Handaran remained.
"Twas a shocking display, Tarnor." Handaran.
"Aye, I surprised even myself there. But tis my fault in that I wast already susceptable to this. I'd been detirmined to release the aged knight since before I'd even laid eyes upon him."
"What?!" Vassily's eyes opened wide.
"Do you really think we canst survive a war against the Kingdom of New Montaria? With one of their lords on our side, we'll be able to remain free from the Montarians. I suppose the exile of the lords who first organized the coup will also aid us.
"But, even so, I was not prepared for what occurred before our eyes. I'd expected to need to use bribes or threats, and I'd expected Ingamar to be another arrogant swine.
"This throws a new light on all my outlook. He is right, nobles cannot be blamed for their place in life any more than commoners can.
"Ah, I hath much to ponder in the coming years. Our duty to the archipelago shalt certainly cause us much suffering, but we must endure it and strive to protect at least part of the realm."
The great warrior of the Serpent's Hold continued to stare on, still uncomprehending
his fate. He sat shackled in the murky hold of a ship, now returning him
to the Isle of Deeds.
How, Taljehn wondered, how did this all happen to him, he who won such a great honor for the order?
But he was burdened by a foolish lord and a jealous general. Damn Ingamar! The doddering old fool is behind all of this, envious at all I acomplished.
And that peasent lord, Dredanal. He must pay as well. He humiliated Taljehn and has forced him to lose even his own Honor.
How could this have happened to I, Tajehn pondered, I who had planned so well?
It all happened too soon… The lord died far sooner than Taljehn had wanted… It was unfair, the gods themselves seemed to conspire against Taljehn…
The paladin was brought from his reverie by the sound of small footsteps. A woman entered and stared down at Taljehn with contempt.
"You…" Numiev hissed.
"And what hath thou to say, foolish woman?" Taljehn barked. "Leave me to my thoughts!"
"I shalt doubtless die as well for your crimes when we reach New Montor… My house and family shall be shamed by thy foolish, idiotic ambitions!"
From behind her back the woman pulled forth a thin dagger. Taljehn gazed on at this, realizing that he wast not destined to face trial from the Silver Serpent's order.
"You've ruined me, and now I shall have revenge!!!!"
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