The tall, white haired man was standing in front of the windows looking at the cold rain pouring down over the men hurrying about their duties down in the yard. They were wrapped in heavy cloaks that were meant to keep them dry but the wind was fluttering them around. They were trying to wipe their wet faces with the backs of their hands only to get them wetter. Horses were being saddled or harnessed to large wagons. Some of the men looked worried but went on with the preparations anyway. Some were hugging their children and wives, while some were just standing there in the rain, looking at the palace like saying good bye to it.
The old man turned away from the commotion in the yard and stopped in front of the portrait of a beautiful woman. She was wearing dark burgundy robes and the delicate tiara on her head was holding back her beautiful chestnut brown hair. She had a delicate necklace around her neck. The pendant in the shape of a bird with spread wings was hanging off a simple silver chain. A few curls left free on each side of her smiling face made her look very young and the man looked at her fondly. A wide, yet delicate smile showed the pearls of her teeth and the cherry red lips.
The man turned his face away briefly to look again at the rain hitting mercilessly the windows and talked to the woman in the picture in a sad voice.
“Today is the day, my dearest, today we will stop being … us. I don’t know if I will meet you up there amongst the spirits of our Ancestors once all of this is over. But we have to do it, or else…” He stopped, his voice breaking, and looked at her again.
“… We are the only ones who can stop … him. We have the power to stop him and we have to do it to save everybody from his tyranny. Good bye, my love, watch over us from above and help us set everything right.”
He turned around and with a sad smile grabbed his helmet and sword lying on the chair beside him and headed toward the doors. He wrapped his body in the dark cloak covering the light armour decorated with the coat of arms of the kingdom. Under it, the white silk shirt embroidered around the neck and cuffs was neatly tucked in the soft leather pants. The knee high boots were shiny and the spurs made a soft jingling sound when he walked.
He stopped and looked at the portrait one last time and thought of his children. They had a good life, without wars or worries, but now, that was about to change. He had a long and prosperous life and was not sad to see it end sooner than he would have liked. Next year he would have turned 100 and he would have had many more years ahead. But his earthly life coming to an end only meant that he would join the Ancestors and hopefully be with his wife again.
Lost in thought, he turned when the doors opened behind him to see a young man, looking just like the woman in the portrait, entering and bowing his head with respect. He looked at the man and whispered.
“We are ready, Father, everybody is waiting for you.” The young man looked at the portrait on the opposite wall and smiled. It looked like the woman smiled back at him and he looked surprised and a little scared.
“She knows, my son, she knows what we have to do today and she will look after us when we will need it, like she always did,” the older man answered and put his arm around his shoulders.
“I’m ready too,” he said softly, opening the doors. “May the Ancestors be with us!”
Chapter 1 – Story Time
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there lived a wise King who ruled over land as far as he could see. The people living under his rule had never known war or hardship: they have been all living peaceful and prosperous lives, along with all living creatures around them. The King had many subjects – as many as the grass blades in the fields and the leaves in the trees. His name was Lade-Gleal and he had been ruling over his people for as long as anyone could remember. King Lade was a kind and fair ruler and because of that everybody called him Father Lade.
The people in Father Lade’s kingdom liked open spaces where they could see the sky and the mountains and the forests. They lived on the open, rainy plains of the South or in the depths of the dark forests of the West, on top of the tall mountains of the East, in warm, damp marshes alongside the big rivers of the Midlands or in the cold, icy lands of the North.
The King and his family lived in their Ancestors’ palace, in the city of Bridd. The palace was the oldest building in the city and although nobody remembered when it was built, its walls showed little signs of aging. The stone steps at the front were still shiny and the marble rails looked as if time did not touch them. Tall arched windows were giving the facade a distinguished majesty. The flags showing the kingdom’s coat of arms and the county banners were fluttering in the breeze on top of the towers.
Inside, the rooms were bright and the tall windows were letting the sunlight filter through, warming up the gray stone walls. The throne room had its walls draped in velvety green curtains and rows of chairs lined the walls. While it was the largest room in the palace and was always prepared for all kinds of ceremonies, lately it was only used for the celebrations of the Day of the Kingdom. The room was deserted most of the time and rarely anybody would be in there. It served now as a passing room that would take people to the large Meeting Hall where family and guests were spending most of the time. The bedrooms and guest rooms were on the second floor of the palace and they offered an unobstructed view of the city or of the gardens.
The palace was surrounded by houses spread around, looking like smaller versions of the King’s home. The wide, neatly kept streets converging at the palace, made the city look like a gigantic web. Surrounded by small peaked fences or tall hedges, they let the passersby enjoy the wide porches and well kept gardens. The city of Bridd was renowned for its beautiful, luxurious gardens and visitors from all over the land would come to see them and enjoy their colours.
People from all corners of the kingdom were coming to the City of Bridd all year long to bring their offers to their King and to enjoy the beauty of the palace gardens and its surroundings. In spring, gentle crocuses and snow drops were lining the path to the palace, competing with a symphony of purple and brown irises and golden daffodils. In summer, lavish vines were covering the tall walls of the palace and superb rose shrubs were greeting guests in a mélange of colours. Fall was bringing shades of brown and orange on its large trees and intricately cut hedges. Snowy winters turned the palace and its surroundings into a winter wonderland where people would meet on the frozen lake or under the warmed gazebos for hot drinks.
Father Lade and his Queen liked visitors and people from all over the kingdom would come to the city just to catch a glimpse of him in the gardens or to bring him a small token of their love and respect. The palace was always full of guests and food and drinks could be found in abundance for everyone to enjoy. Kings and rulers were coming over for spring celebrations or for the Harvest Festival. Tournaments were held every summer and celebrations of all sorts kept the kitchens and wine cellars busy.
There was one thing though, that all guests asked about and nobody could give an answer to: what the big rocks surrounding the kingdom at its borders were. The wind and rain have smoothed them and now they looked like tall, quiet sentries watching the borders of the Bridd land. Nobody knew why they were there and some would swear their number had grown in the past years.
Today on a day like any other, the King, his family and a few of their closest friends were having the morning meal in the dining room. The King was chatting softly with his First Councillor as the food was being brought in from the kitchens. His three sons with a few of their friends were laughing loudly at the other end of the table, while his younger daughter and her friends were whispering at one another, throwing quick looks at the young men at the other end. Llewella, his eldest daughter, was picking at her food, lost in thought, not listening to what they were saying. The King stopped talking and looked around the room, smiling fondly and thinking of his beloved wife. If she could see them now, how happy they all were, without a worry in the world.
The door to the dining room opened quietly and suddenly everybody stopped talking, looking inquisitively at the guard that entered the room. The man stopped in the doorway and waited for the King’s permission to speak. Instead of asking him to come closer, the Councillor stood up and walked to him. The guard whispered something in his ear, then turned and left as quietly as he came. The King looked at his friend, as he noticed the worry on his face.
“What happened, Master Brohan? What did the guard want?” he asked and everybody looked at him anxiously.
“The scouts are back, My Lord, and they bring news from the borders. They are waiting in the War Room. As soon as we are finished, they would like to talk to you.”
Everybody noticed the worry in the Councillor’s voice but did not know what to make of it. The King stood up pushing his plate away leaving his meal barely touched, prompting everybody to stand up in respect.
“I’m done, you finish your meal,” he told his companions. “I’ll go talk to them now so they can go and rest. Master Brohan, would you come with me?” He smiled at everybody as to tell them everything was all right and left the room.