Kai hefted the wooden bucket from the town well-spring. Water splashed out onto his boots as he struggled to keep his balance. Edwin the baker, who was tending his bread table across the way, motioned to him. The large, round-faced man with kind eyes and a thick beard lifted a basket of bread from the table.
“Lad, your mother is expecting an order of my finest woodland dough. Think you could deliver this to her?” Edwin asked.
Kai shuffle-stepped with the bucket and set it down next to the large oak bread vendor table.
“My da is expecting me to return with the water for his forge barrel.” Kai said.
“Ahh, lad, `twill only be a hop, skip, and a sprint to your home. You’ll be back to the forge in no time. I’ll even watch your bucket for ya!” Edwin said. He patted Kai on the head, ruffling his dark-brown hair.
Kai sighed and decided his father could wait another few minutes while he took on this perilous quest. “Alright!”
The boy took the basket full of freshly-baked bread and sprinted down Vendor Way. The street was filled with the Season Spring merchants and many local villagers shopping for wares.Weaving in and out of small crowds along the vendor corridor, Kai waved at his best friend, Dantis, as he ran by. Dantis was three years older, and prided himself on being able to drink at the ripe old age of sixteen.
“Kai! I’ve some new Rune marbles to show you! Da got them on his trade run last night!” Dantis yelled.
Dantis rolled out some leather goods on a table, and quickly plucked up a leather bag that held Rune marbles.
“No time!! On an errand!” Kai yelled back.
Of course, he had no time to spend on idle children games; he was a knight with a mission. He would not fail the king in his perilous quest to deliver the royal treasure. Although, he did wonder if Dantis did come across a gold-flecked Rune marble. Onward Kai ran, sliding and crawling under a merchant cart which carried large cages filled with chick birds. The cart’s wheel was stuck in the middle of the street because of a few loose cobblestones. Its driver shook his hat at Kai and told him to `git’.
Kai passed Market Row, where a lot of farm merchants were set up to sell their crops. His mission had taken him through many roadways, and this of course was the most crowded of the streets. Ansol Hobarr tossed him an apple. The lanky, elderly man smiled and waved, standing behind a set of wooden boxes filled with delicious apples and fruits from his orchard. Food for his journey; of course he would need it! Such honorable people lived in the confines of the kingdom. Kai quickly stopped and saluted Ansol then, just as quickly as he had entered Market Row, he exited the packed street. Kai stopped on Belto Bridge overlooking Crystal River. A squat, elderly man dressed in many rags stood holding a fishing pole. It was Lokos, the town story-weaver. In fact, it was said that Lokos was the oldest man in the entire city. Some said that the old man was there before the city had been built, and that he’d had a little cottage on Crystal River when it was a forest. Yet Kai wondered how that could be, since the city itself had been built over three hundred seasons past. Lokos nodded knowingly, his white, unkempt hair ruffling as a slight wind blew.
“Another quest, eh, lad?” Lokos asked.
“Aye!” Kai answered excitedly.
Lokos eyed the shiny, red apple in Kai’s hand. His lips smacked, and he almost seemed to drool.
“Ahhh, an Ansol apple, red and crisp, the taste sweet like honey. Tell me, lad, interested in a trade? A tale for that delicious gem you have there.” Lokos said.
The old man set down his fishing pole next to his empty wooden fish bucket. Kai felt a surge of excitement. A tale from Lokos was worth more than a bucket of apples. Yet, his quest would be long, and giving up his food supply might hinder his ability to survive in the harsh conditions his journey might offer.
“Good trade!” Kai said.
The boy handed the prized apple to Lokos, who rubbed it across his tattered brown sleeve. The old man’s wrinkled and weathered face came to life as a smile appeared, revealing a set of perfect white teeth.
“What a beauty!” Lokos said. The apple disappeared into the old man’s robes, and with that Lokos sat down next to his fishing bucket.
“Let’s see…” Lokos said. The old man rubbed his chin, then arched his left eyebrow. “Ah yes! Before there were kings who ruled the land, before there were Engrall, before the Dwarkain and Elvanians, when the land was young, there existed beings known as the Titans. These beings stood as tall as the tallest trees of the oaken forest. They were stronger than the strongest mountains made of stone. These Titans protected the forests and the mountains from the evil Under Dwellers. It was said that when the Lightning One came to our world, he recruited the Titans to aid him in battling Typhon, the Lord of Shadows. During this conflict, some of the Titans became tainted by the dark magics of Typhon. The battle lasted for years. The Titans facing off against their own kind until the last battle on Crystal Mountain overlooking Shardath where the Lightning One was mortally wounded by Typhon. When the dust settled from this final battle, only five Titans remained. These were the untainted ones and they had sent Typhon back into the abyss. It was said the Titans carried the Lightning One’s shattered body into the heavens, and were never seen or heard from again.”
Kai was lost within the tale, itself for such information would aid him in future missions. He would have to remember it later and tell his friends.
“I thank you, story-weaver!” Kai said. He bowed deeply, and then was gone sprinting across the bridge onward to his ultimate goal.
Running down a dark and gloomy alley, Kai found himself confronted by Killer. How had he forgotten this was Killer’s lair? Killer stood at the end of the long alley, the gate leading to the castle a mere forty feet away. Killer’s red eyes glowed, his enormous white teeth gleamed from the shadows. Kai was so close, he risked it all and charged the creature! He came to a halting stop right in front of…the old hunting dog. Killer regarded him with tired, weary eyes and licked his hand. The boy scratched the old dog on the chin and smiled.
“Old Killer, such a formidable opponent, yet I know your weakness.” Kai smiled. He pulled a bit of beef jerky from his belt pouch.
Killer’s eyes widened and his tail wagged. With that, Kai handed the piece of meat to Killer, who gobbled it down.
“Take care, ole boy!” Kai said.
The creature was defeated, and his goal lay ahead. The palace gates loomed before him as the heroic knight stepped through the gigantic metal doors, and was greeted by the queen herself. Her long raven-black hair and gleaming blue eyes were the prize jewels of the entire Kingdom. Kai held out the basket of baked goods as reality returned to him.
“Well done, son, record time and you didn’t lose any loaves!” his mother said. She took the basket filled with baked goods and set them on a wooden counter. She turned around and saw the serious look on Kai’s face. She smiled and cleared her throat. Oh, I’m sorry, Sir Knight; your reward for such a valiant effort.” She said, pulling a baked cherry-chip cookie from a jar on the counter.
“Nay, my Queen, I could not accept such a reward, for the task I took was not as dangerous as I thought,” Kai said. He bowed before her.
“Very well, I suppose I’d better not let it go to waste. I’ll eat it myself,” his mother said.
Kai snatched the cookie from her hand and smiled. “On second thought, the trek back to the war front will be treacherous, and I will need my strength.”
With those words, Kai sprinted from the house and went back the way he had come.
The large wooden doors of his father’s smithy opened and Kai stepped in with the large bucket of water.
“Let me guess, Edwin had another secret mission for the Young Knight?” his father asked.
Kai lugged the bucket full of water into the forge room and set it on the stone floor. He shrugged and nodded, giving a grin to his father.
“As long as it was successful and your quest to aid the King of Ancients was completed,” his father said.
The brawny man had long, dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, and he was wearing a smithy apron. He pulled his large smith hammer from the table and walked to the forge.
“Yes, Da, mission accomplished,” Kai said, lifting the bucket again.
His father slammed his hammer down on a piece of heated metal. Sparks flew with each hammer blow, the red-hot metal bending to his will.
Kai entered the forge area carrying the bucket of water. The leather cap that covered his shaggy, brown hair, slipped a bit as he struggled with the bucket, spilling some of its contents on the stone-cobbled floor.
Kai’s father arched a brow, watching his son. A grin slipped across his stubbled mouth. “We’re needin’ that water in the barrel, lad, unless you’re going to clean the floor.”
Kai grunted and lifted the bucket, dumping the rest of the water into the large oak barrel.
“Sorry, Da,” Kai said.
“It’s fine, lad. Come see the blade I‘m working on. One day you’ll be ready to start forging,” his father said. The hammer bounced across the heated metal a few more times. He used metal tongs to dip the strip into the barrel of water. Steam hissed and a searing, squealing sound filled the forge area.
Kai peeked over the edge of the barrel, watching the water swirl and bubble from the heated strip of metal which was now forged into a double-edged blade.
“Fine piece, worked my own blood and sweat into this one. The Rune etched in that one is
for the Lightning One, the god of Warriors,” his father said.
Kai’s eyes grew wide, and a large smile revealed pearl-white teeth.
“Da, I know who that is. Thor is the Lightning One!” Kai smiled knowingly.
“That’s right lad. Thor, Ancient Lord of the Lightning Dance, father of the Warriors.”
The boy’s eyes studied the blade within the barrel, mystified by the mention of Thor. His father had read from the Book of Tales after supper many times, and Thor was his favorite tale. Thor and the battle of the Titans. The mystical spear, forged from the Godstone, had felled the Army of Titans that sought to destroy the lands. Jodan pulled the blade out of the water and wiped it clean. The blade shimmered and gleamed as the light of the forge leapt from it. The Rune seemed to glow a bit, as Jodan wrapped the blade and set it on his work table.
“Time for supper, lad,” his father said. He rounded the work table and ruffled the boy’s hair. Suddenly, a large bullhorn sounded outside, followed by feet pounding on cobblestones and yelling people. He grimaced. “Damn. The Engrall are here too early. Kai, stay here,” he commanded. He grabbed a large sword from the wall and pulled it from an ornate sheath. The blade hummed as he pulled it free.
He pushed the door to the smithy open and looked out into the street for a moment. He turned back to Kai. “Lad, you lock this door once I leave. You don’t open it for anyone. If I don’t return, find your way out of town until the Engrall leave. Do you understand?”
Kai cringed in fear but nodded. “Da, what about Ma? Let me go with you! I can fight.”
His father shook his head. “No, son, it’s too dangerous. Stay here. I’ll check on your ma and bring her back here.” He turned and exited into the street, the door slamming behind him.
Muffled screams and yells echoed into the smithy. A thundering sound erupted and the ground shook. Kai approached the door and reached for the lock. Then he stopped. “No,” he said. “Thor wouldn’t hide in a smithy.” He opened the door and stepped out into the street.
Several people ran by in a panic almost trampling each other.
Kai spotted his father across the way next to Edwin, who clutched the hilt of his war-sword and looked off into the distance. Kai knew Edwin was a veteran of the Old Wars.
“…not making much sense,” Edwin was saying as Kai approached. “Why would they be coming for tribute this early in the season?”
Kai’s father peered down Vendor Way toward the large stone gateway that led to the outside of their city. Then he noticed Kai behind him. He spun, eyes wide. “Kai!” he scolded. “I told you to stay inside!”
Kai shrunk back for a moment. Maybe following his da had been a mistake. But he puffed up his chest, trying to be brave. “Da, Thor wouldn’t back down from a fight. Neither would a true knight.”
“You’re not…” Jodan stopped and shook his head. “Fine, I don’t have time to drag you back inside. Come on!” He turned back to Jodan. “Best you gather the militia and meet me at the mayor’s dwelling.”
“Will do. Be safe, friend.” Edwin said.
Kai’s father turned and sprinted, dodging and weaving through the crowds of panicking people. Kai struggled to follow.
Kai spotted city guards attempting to fend off armored Engrall with sword and shield.
Unfortunately, they were no match for the blades of the Engrall and their heavier armor. The Engrall dispatched the city guards with ease, and then set their sights upon people who had stopped to gawk at the battle.
Kai and his father kept moving.
They raced down an alleyway and emerged across from their home. The door was open. Oh no, Kai thought.
A figure wearing red and black armor flew backward into the street. Kai’s mother followed.
His mother held two curved blades which Kai had never seen before. Runes on the steel glowed.
“More of that, if you’re wanting some!” Tyrissa smiled. She kept her eyes on the enemy and did not see Kai or his father.
The armored Engrall made no sound. It brought its sword up in an arc stance and then rushed toward Kai’s mother.
Kai’s mother planted her feet and twirled her twin blades, ready to meet the oncoming Engrall. The heavy curved blade of her foe met her own, causing sparks to fly as they struggled.
“Tyrissa!” Kai’s father shouted. He rushed toward where the two clashed.
Kai stood frozen, watching the battle.
The Engrall, at least twice as large as Kai’s mother, pushed forward, knocking Kai’s mother back. The red, glowing eyes within its helm mocked her.
She rushed in again, this time with a flurry of jabs and slashes. The Engrall met each move with parries. They danced together for several moments until she scored a strike beneath an armor plate under his arm.
The Engrall dropped his blade.
Kai’s mother brought her blade to the Engrall’s neck and sliced. The battle ended as the limp body of her enemy fell to the cobblestone in a heap of armor.
Kai’s father reached her. He lent her a hand and helped her stand. “Tyrissa! You could have gotten yourself killed!”
Kai ran up as well and hugged his mother. “Ma! How did you learn to fight like that,” he asked, pulling away.
His mother looked him in the eyes. She seemed sadder than he had ever seen her. “That’s not important, Kai. You have to run.”
“No, I won’t!” Why did no one believe he could fight?
His mother opened her mouth, probably to scold him, when movement caught her eye.
Three more Engrall in red and black armor, these without the glowing eyes, appeared with their blades at the ready.
Kai, his mother, and his father turned to face the trio. Kai picked up the blade from the fallen Engrall. At his touch, the Runes lit up.
Kai’s mother looked at him, startled, before turning back to their foes. She blew a stray hair from her face and gripped her blades tight. A wicked smile slipped across her sweaty face.
“Come then, dance with ole Tyrissa!” she yelled.
The three Engrall advanced, spreading out. One came straight toward them and the others moved to encircle them.
Kai’s mother did not give them the chance. She leapt into the air and soared toward the lead Engrall.
He raised his sword and their blades clashed.
Kai held the sword from the fallen Engrall with two hands. He felt awkward wielding such a large blade. He watched as one of the Engrall warriors targeted him. He raised his blade sideways and braced for impact.
The Engrall warrior swung his blade and slammed it into Kai’s blade.
Kai went flying backward from the force of the blow. His hands burned and his arms ached. He struggled to get up.
The enemy raised his blade high, preparing to strike Kai as he lay on the ground.
A blade poked through the chest of the Engrall as he was stabbed from behind by Tyrissa.
His mother held Kai’s gaze. She mouthed the words “I love you.”
Movement behind her caused Kai to break his gaze. “Mother!” he shouted.
His warning came too late. The long blade of the first Engrall warrior that his mother had clashed blades with stabbed her in the back.
Her eyes went wide and she gasped. The blade retracted and she slumped to the ground.
Kai’s father, was to Kai’s right, standing over the corpse of an Engrall warrior. He turned at the sound of Kai’s scream. “No!” he roared. He rushed toward the final enemy warrior and swung with wild fury.
The enemy tried to parry the blows from Kai’s father but they came too fast.
Jodan slashed the enemy in the leg.
The Engrall stumbled and fell to one knee.
Kai’s father wasted no time executing him with a stab through the chest. Then he dropped his sword and knelt beside his wife. He took her hand in his.
“At least…got…two,” Tyrissa rasped.
Kai stepped up to his father and mother to get a better look at the wound in her chest. The blade had pierced through the right side of her chest, opposite her heart. But she struggled to breath, likely because her lung had been pierced.
“Don’t move. I’ll carry you in the house. We’ll get you patched up in no time,” Kai’s father said, though the note of worry in his voice was clear to Kai.
Kai’s mother laughed, then coughed up some blood.
“You’re not a good liar, my love,” she said, seeming to regain her strength for a moment.
Jodan knelt, cradling his wife in his arms. Her eyes locked with his. He caressed her pale face, wiping away specks of her blood.
“Don’t…don’t let them…take the boy. If they find out who…” she coughed again. “They’ll…take…him.”
“I won’t. And you’re his mother. You’re to be rememberin’ that, love.” Kai’s father said.
What does she mean by that? Kai wondered. Of course she was his mother.
She reached up with a trembling hand and touched her husband’s cheek. “I…know,” she breathed.
Jodan nodded and another tear trickled down his cheek.
“Don’t…be…sad. I go…Vahalla. Love…you,” she said. Her eyes drifted to Kai, including him in her statement.
Jodan leaned down and kissed his wife’s lips as her lungs heaved one final time before becoming still. He closed her eyes with his fingertips. “Kai…” he whispered.
“I’m here, Father,” Kai said. “I didn’t mean…I didn’t want her to die. I’m sorry, it was my fault.” He hung his head in shame. He should have been stronger, faster. If his mother hadn’t had to save him she might still be alive.
His father rose and stepped up to him. He put his hands on Kai’s shoulders. “Lift your eyes, son.”
Kai lifted his eyes and met his father’s.
“It was not your fault. The Engrall decided to invade. Never forget that.”
Kai nodded, though his father’s words did little to comfort him. If only I had stayed at the smithy, he thought.
“Follow me,” his father commanded. He led Kai into the house.
Pieces of wood littered the floor where the counter had been. Clearly Tyrissa had struggled with the first foe before taking it into the street.
Kai’s father walked into the bedroom and lifted the top of one of the bedposts. It popped off. He withdrew a key and replaced the top of the bedpost. Then he knelt before an old chest and inserted the key, turning it. He lifted the lid, revealing pieces of dust-covered armor and battle gear bearing the scratches and dents of war. He readied himself for battle, donning the armor, pulling two daggers from the chest, and sheathing them in each boot. He turned and his eyes seemed to burn with a fury Kai had never before witnessed. He exited the bedroom in silence and walked out into the street.
Kai followed, casting one last glance around his home. They would rebuild once the Engrall were repelled, wouldn’t they? He stopped once he arrived outside.
His father stood a few meters in front of him. Across the street stood yet another Engrall warrior. This one held a blade-staff, a staff with a gently curving black blade on the end.
“Candris,” Kai’s father said, his tone that of a curse word.
“Ah, the old war hero yet lives!” Candris said.
“Why are you doing this?” Jodan asked. He gestured at the bodies of the four fallen Engrall and his wife. “Take your tribute and leave us.”
Candris laughed. “Foolish old man. The time for ‘peace’ with your people is over. A new emperor rises in the north and he has no place for your…inferior…race.”
“You were once a hero, Candris. What happened?”
“I became enlightened,” he replied. “But enough talk. This ends here, war hero!” He advanced toward Jodan, blade-staff spinning.
Kai’s father looked behind at Kai. “Git, boy, now!”
Kai stood paralyzed. If he left, his father could die; but if he stayed, his father could be distracted and die. He could not move. His eyes were locked on the Engrall Candris.
“Kai!” his father shouted.
Kai did not move.
His father turned and lifted his sword in time to block the descending blade of Candris’ blade-staff.
Candris lifted the blade up and the butt of the staff slammed into Jodan’s stomach.
Kai’s father stumbled back but did not drop his sword.
Candris thrust with the blade-staff, using it like a spear.
Kai’s father side-stepped it and sliced down, knocking the blade into the dirt. He then elbowed Candris in the face.
It was Candris’ turn to stumble back, dragging his blade-staff with him.
Jodan pressed his advantage, swinging his blade and aiming to decapitate Candris.
Candris brought his weapon up in time to block the strike. He pushed Jodan back.
“Enough of this,” Candris said. He withdrew a pipe from his waistband, put it to his lips and aimed it toward his opponent. He blew and a dart flashed out, striking Kai’s father in the neck.
“Ah!” Kai’s father exclaimed, lifting a hand and removing the dart. He looked at it. “Poison,” he said before the sword fell from his hand and he slumped to the ground.
“Father!” Kai screamed.
Candris ignored the scream of the boy and advanced on his father. “Let us not take any chances.” He hefted his blade-staff into the air, preparing to slam it down like a woodsman’s axe.
Kai leapt into action and raced to stand above his father’s prone body. He hefted the sword he’d picked up earlier. Candris’ blade met his. Kai felt a strength deep within ripple outward, filling his entire body. The hairs on his arms stood up and he felt as strong as a hundred men. The Runes on the sword glowed brighter than ever, but Kai ignored them. He focused on the man who had condemned his father to die. He roared in anger and heaved.
Candris’ blade shattered. He was left with only the staff portion. “Impossible,” he whispered, eyes going wide.
Kai showed no mercy. Anger clouded his vision. He killed my father. He thrust with his blade and it slid through the bone and muscle of Candris like a butcher’s knife through a slab of beef.
Candris gasped and howled. His eyes rolled up into his head.
Kai removed the blade and kicked Candris, causing his corpse to fall backward onto the dusty ground.
Kai stood shaking, blood on his hands, death all around him.
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