Harren could not help but to repeatedly glance out of the carriage window, looking for the queen’s men. It had been three days since they had left the safety of Picket and Valor was still at least a day’s journey away.
Their food was running lower and lower as each day passed and the comforts of the carriage began to feel like a prison cell. There was naught to do but listen to Lord Tallgrow’s guards gallop alongside the carriage and it was like to drive him mad.
The carriage came to a halt and Harren’s heart jumped to his throat. The door to the carriage creaked open and one of the guards poked his head inside. “Forgive us m’lord but may we stop for a moment to rest. The horses grow thirsty as well as the other men,” he asked with his head bowed.
“I am no lord. You and your men may rest, you deserve it”.
The guard gave thanks and departed the carriage.
“Harren, would it be alright to step out and stretch my legs? They are cramping most horribly,” asked Kyran.
“It would be best if you didn’t. You never know who could be watching the carriage. The queen’s men could be spying even now,” said Harren, pulling back the curtain a bit to glance out the window once more.
“As you say,” said Kyran with a groan.
“You will have your chance Kyran. We should reach Valor on the morrow and you will be safe,” said Harren reassuringly.
He didn’t know why he kept telling Kyran that he was going to be safe. The truth was that he would never be safe. Lord Tallgrow’s words had rung true. The queen rules all of Ethios, not just the Queensgrove. She could easily send her men into Valor.
Perhaps it was the idea of rebellion that gave Harren the false sense of safety. Perhaps he found solice in the fact that the queen had many enemies within the Riverlands, ones who have pledged their allegiance to her but would betray her at the slightest hint of a usurper.
Will that be what they call Kyran? A usurper?
Harren knew Kyran’s claim wasn’t strong and that many Lords will try to squash his chances but he had to try. The queen was not like to marry again and her rule was driving Ethios into poverty.
The foreign merchants saw it as well. They run back to their countries and tell their people that Ethios is weak and ripe for the taking. Rentos had been itching for their chance at Ethios for centuries if history could be believed.
The queen saw herself as a just ruler when it was the exact opposite. She loathed her people. The highborn lords and ladies were the only ones with which she gave her courtesy and even that was coldly given. The smallfolk were of little matter to her. She harvested them like vegetables for the slave trade and shipped them off to the far corners of the world to be beaten and worked until their days were done. She overtaxed the poor and used their scraps to pay for her many feasts that were always taking place in the castle.
She would even send her brother Gabrial and her Royal Guard to the streets to “cleanse” the sick by slaughtering them where they lay dying in their own filth.
Memories of Harren’s sister came flooding back to him. Her smiling face, her laugh, and even the way she always pinched his cheeks and called him little brother.
He would never have the chance to see her again, to hear her voice or talk to her about her life or his. His family was gone and all he had was the one he made for himself.
It was then that he remembered Tymen, Hannah and his other children. Lord Tallgrow had received his letter and had sent his guard out every day to look for the children on the road. They had been doing just that when the guards brought Kyran and Harren into the city. They had not made it to Picket but he prayed they did soon. He wondered what had befallen them. It worried him to think that they had been captured by the queen. She had been on her way to Picket when they had left the city and could have very well found the children on their way.
He pushed the thought from his mind.
They don’t know what any of my wards look like. Lord Tallgrow said he would send a bird to Valor if the children arrived safely. I can only trust in that.
As the carriage began to move forward once more, Kyran reached into the small chest that sat on the floor of the carriage. He pulled out two loaves of bread and handed one to Harren.
Lord Tallgrow had seen to it that they were not like to want for food on their journey. He gave the guards ample amount of food for themselves and did the same for Harren and Kyran.
The bread was still warm, even after three days. Rich and creamy butter filled the center, giving their mouths much welcomed flavor.
“Harren, do you think Lord Galia will claim me for his King,” asked Kyran after a moment of silence.
“Im like to think so. We can not be sure but I trust in the man I once knew”.
The Elliot Galia that Harren knew as a boy was no longer a child. He was a man grown, and quite renowned for his cruel and violent actions during “The Beggars War”. There was also the chance that Lord Galia no longer remembered Harren.
There was so much at risk that Harren began to doubt if it was worth the trouble.
If Lord Galia does not claim Kyran as his one true king then we will have no choice but to flee. We would board a ship from Galenport and sail to Godsland, that is the only place where the Queens armies cannot touch us.
Godsland was considered “holy land”. It is where the priests and priestesses claim their titles and learn to spread the faith.
No armies dared set foot on the Godsland or risk the wrath of the gods.
Even on the Godsland, Harren could not say for sure if the Queen would try to retrieve them or not. There was no limit to what she would do in order to retain her crown.
Harren spent the remainder of the day thinking about all that could happen when they reached Galenport.
Harren’s stomach turned to knots when the shadow of the Great Gates of Valor began to emerge from the morning fog. The gates were eighty feet tall, made of stones that looked dark blue. Moss and vines draped the walls of the city, making it look as if it had just burst from the ocean.
Two guard towers with a portcullis in between stood as the entrance to the city. Laying out in front of the city was the vast expanse of The Serpent. Its waters were a dull grey but the sight of the grand city of Valor on its other end was enough to give the river a certain beauty. The road changed from dirt to brick as they began to cross the large bridge that led to Valor’s gates. As they drew nearer to the city, they noticed the guard towers. Flying brilliantly on top of the two guard houses was the sigil of House Tyber, a Merman holding his trident on a sky blue field. Below House Tyber’s sigil flew the sigil of House Galia, a Sea Serpent on a green and blue field.
As they approached the gates, a voice called to them from the arrow slits above, “Lady Tallgrow was not being expected today”.
Harren’s stomach gave a lurch. Kyran shifted in his seat as well.
“Lady Tallgrow does not have to inform you of her comings and goings ser! She is not here to visit with Lady Tyber. She is here for the market for which she heard a specific piece of jewelry is being sold. Very valuable she says,” shouted the guard outside of the carriage.
Without another word from the guard in the tower, the portcullis began to clank open.
The city was so grand that Harren half wondered why Valor wasn’t the capitol of Ethios. Its tall white washed buildings cloaked the carriage in shadow as it trudged down the brick streets.
Lord Tyber’s castle was hard to miss amongst the cities many buildings. Towering above all the rest with his banner hanging from every tower, Lord Tyber’s castle was like to make any lord green with envy.
The carriage came to a halt, and the guards opened the doors. They had parked the carriage within a small allyway between two of the large buildings. Harren and Kyran stepped from the carriage and thanked the guards in kind.
“What now,” asked Kyran inquisitively as he looked around.
“We should be safer now than we were in the Queensgrove. Hatred for the queen runs deep within the Riverlands, and their loyalty to her is only kept together to prevent war. No one would contest the Arintears without a great army and even greater cause,” said Harren quietly.
One of the guards handed Harren the reigns to his horse that they had been trailing behind the carriage.
Harren thanked him, then hoisted Kyran onto the horse’s back.
Leaving Valor was a difficult task. Harren did not know the city and it was very large. If his map could be believed, he needed to leave Valor from the north and follow the road North and West to reach Galenport.
This journey was one he was not feeling up to take. He was tired and wearisome. He had not been able to sleep for what felt like days upon days at a time.
Kyran was not fairing to badly. The boy seemed sure of his task and didn’t seem to be as worried as Harren was.
That’s his father in him, thought Harren as they wandered aimlessly about the streets.
Once they had been searching for what seemed like hours, Harren began to notice that the city guards were giving him strange looks.
Most would look at him with suspicious eyes then whisper to their comrades who then turned their gaze to him as well.
Then, it finally happened.
“Halt,” came the voice of a particularly heavy set guard when Harren and Kyran made their way through the city plaza.
Harren halted his horse and the guards rushed them.
He had no time to think as they pulled Kyran from the horse, causing him to shout in fear.
Instinctively, Harren unsheathed his nameless sword and jumped from his horse. Without thinking he drove his sword into the guard’s neck. Releasing Kyran, the guard fell to the ground, clinching his neck to keep the blood from flowing from his wound.
The man eventually died, as his hands fell to the ground and his eyes glazed over.
Panic erupted within the plaza.
The people began to scream as mothers pulled their children into their homes. The men began grabbing the goods from their market stalls in haste then retreated indoors as well.
The remaining guards pulled out their weapons quickly.
“Put down your weapon. You are under arrest for treason against the crown,” said the guard in the center as Harren moved Kyran behind his back.
There were three of them, and Harren knew he was doomed.
He slowly pulled the map from his back pocket and put it into Kyran’s hands.
“Kyran, run,” shouted Harren as he charged the guards.
Kyran threw himself upon the horse and darted away without hesitation as the guards overtook Harren.
“Stop that boy,” shouted one of guards toward his comrades.
Knocking Harren’s sword from his hands, the guards seized him and tied his hands.
“Where is the boy headed,” asked the guard as he struck Harren across the face.
His head span and blood ran down his lip where the guard’s mail glove had broke it.
“I don’t know,” said Harren as he spit blood into the guards face.
The guard struck him once more, then began dragging him towards the castle. Harren didn’t know what to expect.
Lord Tyber won’t kill me if Kyran is still gone. How could I have been so careless. Lord Tallgrow was right the queen has men everywhere.
The castle seemed even larger as they guards pulled Harren up to its gates. Once inside, he couldn’t help but marble at the high vaulted ceiling, held up by many polished cedar posts. The carpeted stairs were a deep blue and Merman of Tyber was set in the marble floor with blue tile.
The room was brightly lit with the many sconces that lined the walls. For a castle so big, its seemed rather empty.
The guards continued to drag him up many flights of stairs until finally they approached a wooden door with many iron locks. They threw Harren into the room and shut the door loudly behind him.
He heard the clanks and clacks of the iron fittings locking into place, then sat in silence as he listened to their footsteps grow quiet.
The room was brightly lit as well and didn’t look at all like a prison cell. There was a large feathered bed made to fit two people. There was a window that overlooked the river, a table for eating, a bookshelf lined with many books, even a wardrobe filled with clothing for both a man and a child.
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They were expecting us. They had this room ready for our arrival and they expected Kyran to be here with me, thought Harren as worry set over him.
Had Kyran made it out of the city?
Nothing frightened him more than knowing that Kyran was alone and being pursued by guards. He was but a boy of ten, with a heavy burden upon his shoulders.
Even if Kyran escaped, and followed the map to Galenport, who is to say that Lord Galia wont hand him over to the queen.
She would take off his head and put it on the highest spike on Galverin’s castle walls.
All the while Harren would be locked away inside of a tower, unable to be there to comfort him, or tell him that everything would be ok. Kyran would be alone.
That’s when Harren let his emotions overtake him. All of his anger towards Genna and the Queen, his worry for Kyran’s safety, and even his sadness towards his sister’s death, all came bursting out of him in a fit of rage.
He threw all the books from the bookshelf and turned it over. He flipped the table, causing the candles on top of it to come crashing to the ground. He tore the curtains from the windows and threw the clothes from the dresser.
Finally he gave the loudest scream he could muster before falling to the ground in tears.
After his sobbing came to a halt, the room was silent but for his breathing. He was surprised that his commotion didn’t bring anyone to investigate.
He crawled over to the bed and got beneath the blankets, where his tears took him again. Unable to ward off sleep any longer, he finally accepted it.
The sunlight shining through the window woke him from his slumber. The mess he had made the night before had been cleaned. There were new candles upon the table, the clothes had been put back into the dresser, the bookshelf was turned right side up and the books were back in place, and new curtains hung from the window.
Suddenly, the door opened and four strong men, who appeared to be servants, brought in a giant wooden tub. Shuffling behind them were ten serving women with buckets of hot water. They poured the water into the tub, then looked took their leave, save for two of them. All of the men left as well.
Harren decided that he would bathe. He needed it after all. His hair had become dirty and his body smelled of stale sweat.
He stripped down, and covered his manhood, so as not to embarrass the serving women. As soon as he sat into the tub, every muscle in his body relaxed. The serving women took to him with scrubbing brushes and soap.
“Do you know what they are going to do with me,” asked Harren as the women scrubbed him.
He received no answer. They women did not even look him in the eyes. It was as if they never heard him speak.
“I asked a question,” he said angrily.
The women scrubbed him harder but gave no answer. Not only was he losing his patience, but their scrubbing was starting to hurt.
“ANSWER ME,” he shouted as he took the brushes from their hands and threw them across the room.
The women did not even seem to flinch. They retrieved the brushes and returned to scrubbing him, remaining silent.
Harren gave up once he realized that they would not answer him.
Is this how Lord Tyber planned on punishing him? Ordering everyone to remain silent in my presence?
In truth, Harren didn’t mind his punishment. He would much rather be cut off from human contact than be beaten or killed.
The only thing he didn’t seem to understand was why they kept him in such comfortable holdings. The room seemed nice enough to house a lord and Harren was anything but.
The fact that they imprisoned him in nice conditions also meant that they had other plans for him. They could very well turn him over to the queen, but all that requires is that he remain alive. Harren could easily be alive in the darkest cell in Valor’s dungeons yet they kept him in a nice room and treated him as a guest.
The maids finished scrubbing him, gathered his dirty clothing, then left the room without a word. He rose from the tub and moved to the wardrobe. He chose a blue tunic and sand colored trousers.
Harren moved to the window and stared out at the vast expanse of the Riverlands.
Where are you Kyran? Next time I see you, I pray you have an army at your back, thought Harren as the servants returned and silently took the tub and its water.
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